Introducing the Flood Less New Orleans! Campaign

Introducing the Flood Less New Orleans! CampaignWe all know that New Orleans has changed drastically in the wake of Hurricane Katrina 7 years ago. We’re surrounded by a $15 billion dollar hurricane risk reduction system, public schools management has seen wholesale changes, and the region’s awareness of the importance of coastal wetlands as natural storm protection has greatly increased. What would you say if I told you we have a huge opportunity to make even more changes, and increase our city’s ability to deal with the impacts of global warming, while decreasing our carbon footprint, our water pollution, and our subsidence, all while making our communities drier, cooler, and more attractive?Today, I would like to introduce you to Gulf Restoration Network’s Flood Less New Orleans campaign. The purpose of Flood Less NOLA is to advocate for progressive policies and infrastructure initiatives that encourage a more resilient stormwater management system for the city of New Orleans. Flood Less Nola recognizes that the City of New Orleans’ leadership, especially Mayor Landrieu and the City Council, have a unique opportunity to take the city to a whole new level of responsible, efficient, and effective stormwater management thanks to sources of funding that are unlikely to be repeated.Why the Need for the Flood Less New Orleans! Campaign?Anyone who has spent a little time in New Orleans, particularly during the summer season, knows that heavy rainfall is just part of life in the Crescent City. It seems like every time I’ve biked somewhere lately, I ended up passing through shin deep water. New Orleans is one of the rainiest cities in the country with over 62 inches falling per year, and it’s time we learned to live with the water. Moreover, it is time for the city to implement a better strategy to manage its vast stormwater management system.The ProblemThe hurricane protection levees surrounding New Orleans create a “bathtub” affect, allowing parts of the city to fill up during a heavy rain. Localized street flooding in many neighborhoods inundates cars, makes transportation impossible, and damages homes and businesses. When rain falls on impervious surfaces (areas like roofs, sidewalks, parking lots, and roads) it cannot soak into the ground and rushes toward the lowest point, usually a storm drain. The rain picks up dirt and debris, oil and gas leaked from automobiles, lawn fertilizers and pesticides, and chemicals from industrial and commercial activities. The water and these pollutants are pumped out into Lake Pontchartrain. Better stormwater management will lead to a decrease in the level of toxins introduced via runoff.Furthermore, the existing system of quickly moving rainwater into the city’s 1,500 miles of drainage pipes and ugly canals to giant pumps that lift the water (and pollutants) over to the other side of the hurricane protection levees costs New Orleans over $50 million per year. Plus, the energy to run the pumps emits considerable carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Drying out the soil also causes the city to subside and sink. Pumping capacity is only 4.2 inches of rain in 24 hours, which is often exceeded, as was very apparent during recent storms.There’s Hope!The City of New Orleans has an opportunity to become leaders in the development of sensible water policy and management, but it is time for a new way of thinking. Stormwater could and should be seen as a resource that can be captured and reused, instead of simply being viewed as a nuisance that must be disposed of as quickly as possible. Over $2 billion dollars will soon be spent to improve drainage in New Orleans, and that money can be used to enhance our lines of defense against local flooding. Investment in an integrated stormwater management plan can help retain, safely store, and naturally filter water before it is drained to Lake Pontchartrain and surrounding wetlands. Both natural and man-made land features are necessary to protect New Orleans’ unique culture and productive economy. By building up our stormwater management system we will add strength to our coastal lines of defense while reducing risks and protecting our homes, community and economy. It will help to alleviate street flooding in neighborhoods throughout the metro area that have become commonplace during regular bouts of severe weather.Flood Less NOLA recognizes that the City of New Orleans has an unprecedented opportunity to enhance stormwater management through new green infrastructure. Moreover, city leadership, especially Mayor Landrieu and the City Council have a unique opportunity to take the city to a whole new level of responsible, efficient, and effective stormwater management thanks to sources of funding that are unlikely to be repeated.These funding sources include:The Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans will invest over $1 billion in expansions to massive underground drainage culverts throughout the City pursuant to the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Program and over $800 million to complete three permanent canal closure pumps stations at the lakefront; The City has approximately $500 Million in existing federal funds to enhance streets & public spaces. FEMA, HUD, and other federal funding are financing street repairs and capital projects that the City’s Administration is developing. The City of New Orleans can use a reasonable portion of its estimated $247 million in additional federal hazard mitigation funds to incorporate water storage features into such planned public initiatives.The Finer Points of the CampaignThe Flood Less New Orleans Campaign will advocate for better stormwater management practices in the city of New Orleans. Flood Less NOLA will use the principles, values and recommendations of the “New Orleans Citizen Sewer, Water & Drainage Management Task Force: Recommendations for Enhancing New Orleans Stormwater Protection” (the four sets of recommendations can be found here, here, here, and here), and the Comprehensive, Sustainable, Integrated Urban Water Management Strategy for the Greater New Orleans Region designed by the Waggoner and Ball Architects team. Among the recommendations that Flood Less NOLA supports and will advocate for are:Consolidation & Integration of Local Stormwater Management: Utilize an expanded Sewerage and Water Board drainage department to manage all city drainage infrastructure and related policy development; Institute a single, prorated drainage fee towards all city stormwater infrastructure based on property size, run-off potential, and property conservation features; Formalize intergovernmental coordination and inter-parish compacts to achieve regional-level stormwater management planning and infrastructure investment; Establish a Stormwater Advisory Committee to advice SWBNO and City on long-term stormwater management policy and investment planning. Implementation of Land Use Policies that Ease Stress on Drainage Infrastructure: Create a comprehensive water management regulatory and investment framework that utilizes the City Master Plan, zoning, permitting, blight policy, property rehabilitation assistance, and other land use controls to incentivize and mandate runoff reduction from private property. Build on Existing Initiatives to Invest in Integrated Stormwater Protection Policies and Projects: Establish quantifiable performance and investment goals to guide implementation of integrated stormwater management advancements by SWBNO and the City; Reduce stress on city drainage system by using federal hazard mitigation funds and other resources to add stormwater storage and other integrated water. Modification of Planned Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Program & Monticello Canal Improvements to Ensure Greater Effectiveness & Sustainability: Enhance proposed Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Program underground drainage culvert projects, still in design phase, to ensure adequate connectivity to city drainage pipes and include water storage features; Design Monticello Canal improvements to ensure effective inter-parish drainage capacity.The latest green technologies and stormwater best management practices, like raingardens and pervious roads, can prevent flooding by slowing drainage, safely storing and filtering water, thus minimizing the burden on the city’s system. Canals can be transformed into beautiful public spaces that hold water while contributing to a higher quality of life. Detailed plans have been created for New Orleans to better live with water and to flood less, and now it’s time for Mayor Landrieu to lead us to a flood less future. Jonathan Henderson is the Coastal Resiliency Organizer for GRN.

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