From rising seas to disappearing land, few places outside of Greater New Orleans face larger challenges of living with water. These challenges are an opportunity: New Orleans can lead coastal communities across the world by charting a new, more resilient path.
Since 2012 Louisiana has a Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast that incorporates natural, coastal lines of defense for flood protection. The challenge of managing stormwater and flooding behind the levees, in urban areas, remains. New Orleans must flood less.
The lines of defense approach doesn't end at levees and floodwalls. While barrier islands, intact wetlands, levees and floodwalls protect communities against coastal storm surges, they do not address flooding from rain and poor drainage.
New Orleans is one of the rainiest cities in the country, with over 62 inches falling per year. The city is often swamped if forced to pump out more than 4.2 inches of rain in 24 hours. Localized street flooding in many neighborhoods inundates cars and damages homes and businesses. The floodwaters also collect dirt and debris, oil and grease, lawn fertilizers and pesticides, and industrial chemicals--the runoff is pumped out into Lake Pontchartrain with these pollutants. Better stormwater management will lead to both a decrease in nuisance flooding and a decrease in toxins pumped to the Lake.
The current system of pumping rain through miles of drainage pipes, then lifting polluted water over the levees costs over $50 million per year. Drying out the soil also causes the city to sink. The energy to run the pumps emits considerable carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change.
he City of New Orleans has an opportunity to become a leader in sensible water policy. Stormwater could be seen as a resource to be captured and used, instead of a nuisance to be disposed of and hidden.
This is an opportunity to wrestle with the impacts of climate change, water pollution, and subsidence. New Orleans could be drier, cooler, and more attractive. Stormwater technologies and best management practices, like rain gardens, bioswales, and pervious roads, can prevent flooding by slowing drainage and safely storing and filtering water. Slowing and storing the water minimizes the burden on the city’s aging and crumbling drainage infrastructure. Canals can be transformed into beautiful public spaces that hold water while contributing to a higher quality of life.
Both natural and man-made land features are necessary to protect New Orleans’ unique culture and productive economy.Implementing an integrated stormwater management plan can help retain, safely store, and naturally filter water before it is drained to Lake Pontchartrain and surrounding wetlands. By building a stormwater management system New Orleans will strengthen its coastal lines of defense while reducing risks and protecting homes, communities, and the economy.
What GRN is Doing
GRN is calling for forward-looking policies and infrastructure initiatives that encourage a more resilient stormwater management system for the city of New Orleans.
As part of our effort to educate decision-makers and residents and build a broad base of community and political support for new, innovative stormwater policies, GRN cofounded the Greater New Orleans Water Collaborative (GNOWC) in 2014, and participated in the initial planning in 2015. The Water Collaborative is a group of individuals, organizations, and communities working to address critical water issues throughout Greater New Orleans, guided by the vision of the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan. Working within the Water Collaborative, we are engaging and mobilizing a variety of constituencies—including low-income communities and communities of color—to persuade the City of New Orleans to strategize and implement new measures that will help New Orleans flood less.