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Water, water everywhere in New Orleans. How can we manage it?

Dec 07, 2015

By Contributing writer, The Times-Picayune
Robin Barnes is executive vice president and chief operating officer for Greater New Orleans Inc.



[Joe Evans and Barney Lighter with Evans + Lighter Landscape Architecture and Ramiro Diaz, an urban planner and designer at Waggonner & Ball Architects, have designed a courtyard rain garden designed to manage storm water runoff, featuring a small reflecting pool, cistern planters and wetlands landscaping and infrastructure. One of the two Diaz family dogs, Giussi, enjoys drink from the pools. (Dinah Rogers, | The Times-Picayune archives)]


As we switch out hurricane season for our preferred seasons — the holidays and Mardi Gras — we can breathe a sigh of relief for another year that we have avoided major storm surges, wind damage and evacuation. Life is good!

But we often forget that rainfall creates a more insidious day-to-day inconvenience and significant business interruption year-round. In the past 12 months alone, nearly 70 inches of rain have fallen on our region.

The Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, which was greatly influenced by our strong collaboration with the Netherlands, has been much touted as a solution to stormwater and groundwater challenges. As a strategy for creating resilience by living with water, the plan has won numerous awards and served as a tool for educating residents and policy makers about the benefits of thoughtful water management. The effort is funded by the Louisiana Office of Community Development-Disaster Recovery Unit, administered by Greater New Orleans Inc. and led by Waggonner & Ball.

Now, two years after its release, thanks to critical investments and leadership, we are seeing the plan begin to take form with a series of demonstration projects as well as community engagement. In commercial, recreational and residential neighborhoods in and outside of New Orleans, new technologies are being implemented and tested at different scales, allowing the public to see integrated water management in action, test strategies and measure success.

In Jefferson Parish, the Elmwood Business Association and Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission (JEDCO) are leading the adoption of a strategy to "green" the largely paved industrial park. The goal is to reduce business disruption due to frequent flooding and create value for the neighborhood and businesses.

The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority has partnered with the community and local landscape designers on six neighborhood-based rain gardens that are reducing street flooding and increasing quality of life from Gentilly to Algiers. The Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans is investing in green infrastructure pilot programs. And larger scale water management projects are also under way at the City of New Orleans.

Avoiding costs of flooding and other damages are just the beginning: a host of economic benefits will be realized by implementing water management. These projects employ local firms that design, construct and maintain them. Those firms are contributing to a growing new industry sector — emerging environmental — which acknowledges that there are jobs to be created by addressing environmental challenges relating to energy, waste, and, especially, water.

Sixty-five percent of water management jobs do not require a college degree and can provide critically needed entry points to career pathways for low skilled workers and young people today and in the decades to come. It is essential that we take stock of the challenges still ahead and consider how to transform them into inclusive opportunities for economic growth.

Moreover, the expertise and experience that is honed at home, ensuring our own future, can then be exported to other communities, creating new revenues for the region and even more opportunity for local businesses. Just as the Dutch realize more than four percent of their GDP from water management, we strive to do the same — or better.

Implementation of the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan was recently identified as a key strategic action in the newly released Resilient NOLA strategy. And last week in Paris, Mayor Mitch Landrieu committed 10 percent of the city's municipal budget to achieving resiliency goals. Bold policies, investments and leadership are critical to the future of our city and region. It looks as though we are well on our way.

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