Stormwater and New Orleans

A summary of the beginnings of Living with Water in New Orleans and the UC's involvement with stormwater management.

bayou-with-joggersIn recent times, stormwater management in New Orleans has been characterized by regularly overwhelmed drainage systems, excessive paving and pumping that has depleted groundwater levels and led to a sinking city, and urban water assets being wasted while hidden behind walls, underground, or pumped into the river and lake. All of these issues and the failure of traditional infrastructure (levees, pipes and pumps) to protect the city from Hurricane Katrina, continuous flooding, and subsidence has led to a shift in mindset regarding the most effective and thoughtful way to manage stormwater in South Louisiana. It is clear that the single-minded approach of rushing stromwater over pavement, into pipes and pumping it out of the city needs to be reevaluated.


In September of 2013, Waggonner & Ball Architects released the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan. The plan was a result of the Dutch Dialogues and the culmination of the collaborative efforts of officials, professionals, advocates, and community members who began to question current practices while taking a serious look at the place of natural processes in the urban environment. The GNO Urban Water Plan calls for a tandem approach to stormwater management that utilizes natural processes to decrease reliance on and take pressure off of grey infrastructure systems, while celebrating the region’s abundant water resources.

Natural processes slow, store and filter stormwater where it July_2012_2falls, allowing it to return to the groundwater system. Natural process based solutions are commonly known as stormwater BMP’s and/or “green infrastructure” and include systems such as canals and waterways, rain gardens, permeable pavement, floating streets, retention ponds, constructed wetlands and other bioretention systems that slow, store and filter stormwater. Programs underway in cities such as Seattle, Portland and Philadelphia are prime examples of the potential held by these sorts of solutions.


Since the release of the Water Plan, momentum has begun to build here in New Orleans and many organizations around town working to promote sustainable stormwater management:

  • Non-profits such as Global Green, Parkway Partners, Water Works, and the Urban Conservancy are working to educate the public (including public officials) and implement exciting programs around the city.
  • Private firms including Waggonner & Ball, Evans & Lighter, and Dana Brown & Assoc. are working to transform both the public and private domain through innovative stormwater design practices.
  • Local government is contributing to large-scale green infrastructure implementation. Sewage and Water Board’s Green Infrastructure RFP 2014 is funding 7 initiatives whose focus is stormwater management and will invest $500,000 a year up until 2018 for a total of $2.5 million invested in green infrastructure projects. Article 23 places stormwater management requirements that emphasize BMP’s on all new commercial developments in Orleans Parish that are over 10,000 sq. ft.

On September 26, 2014, the GNO Urban Water Collaborative held its inaugural press conference on the banks of Bayou St. John in Mid-City. The collaborative represents one hundred organizations working together to address critical water issues throughout the region and the sort of collective effort that will necessary to move New Orleans towards the more “safe, sustainable and beautiful future” outlined by the Urban Water Plan.

Supporting sustainable stormwater management in New Orleans can be achieved through large scale infrastructure and small scale interventions on private properties. To get involved with this important issue through volunteering or improving stormwater management on your own property, contact us at

Learn more about the UC’s stormwater initiatives BASIN and FYI.

Update 4

Dec 2019

Urban Conservancy Executive Director, Dana Eness, provides comment to The Advocate regarding roadway infrastructure in New Orleans and transition towards municipal water management:

Dana Eness on New Orleans Infrastructure Needs

  • New Orleans claims 1,450 square feet of road surface per person; the highest ratio of pavement per person in the country.
  • The majority of our transportation infrastructure was built in the 1960’s with population projections of 1 million residents. The city currently has less than 400,00 people. We are taxing ourselves to maintain an over-sized street system. 
  • Reducing the sizes of roadways provides space for municipal water management installations and multi-modal transportation opportunities.

Update 3

Nov 2016

Today, the City of New Orleans in partnership with StayLocal, released a Road Construction Toolkit for New Orleans Businesses. The toolkit features important contact information, practical tips and technical assistance so businesses can continue to thrive during road construction. At this time, the City is gearing up a $2.4 billion capital improvement program to repair and rebuild 400 miles of roads and subsurface infrastructure. Read the full press release here.

Update 2

Jul 2016

The UC gets a mention in this article about 2015 Urban Hero, Jay Nix.

Photo by David Grunfeld, | The Times-Picayune

House Tour: Parkway Bakery owners’ waterfront home above Bayou Sauvage

Update 1

The Urban Conservancy’s Front Yard Initiative gets a great mention! Removing excessive paving decreases street flooding by capturing water where it falls and increasing onsite permeability.

Image by Dana Eness, Urban Conservancy

6 ways New Orleans residents can help fight street flooding

Important Links


Gentilly Resiliency District goes against flow of how New Orleans handles stormwater– An excellent summary of the Gentilly Resiliency District and what the $141 million HUD grant entails.