Today, GNO, Inc. officially released its 6.2 billion dollar Urban Water Plan. The plan, designed by local architectural firm Waggoner & Ball, in conjunction with local, state, federal, and international water experts, is designed to help us change our focus from protecting against water to learning how to harness it to help beautify our communities and increase economic development across the region.
Backers sell $6.2B water plan as investment
CITY BUSINESS POSTED: 03:00 PM Wednesday, September 11, 2013
New Orleans’ battle with storm water has been a long, tumultuous and expensive one, but a new 50-year plan Greater New Orleans Inc. unveiled last week calls for government officials and residents to think of water as a solution to flooding and subsidence, rather than a threat.
It also makes the suggestion that the $6.2 billion price tag be thought of as an investment in the future of the region, rather than an insurmountable expense.
A potential funding solution, proponents say, is to include Urban Water Plan projects into parish public works budgets.
Mark Davis, director of the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy, co-authored the implementation section of the 225-page plan and says one of its key findings is that public works dollars need to be used in a more proactive manner. He said the projects in the plan satisfy that need.
“We know we’re going to spend billions fixing pipes, streets, and utilities, and historically we haven’t gotten very good returns on the investments…” Davis said. “The idea is to use some of those same dollars so you’re not only fixing it once, you’re getting a return. It’s not a matter of where do we find $6.2 billion. It’s what do we buy with $6.2 billion.”
Created over the course of two years by local, national and Dutch experts with the guidance of the local firm Waggonner & Ball Architects, the premise of the new plan is to establish a third line of defense against flooding, in conjunction with the existing hurricane protection system and the state’s master plan to restore its coastline.
The plan recommends altering areas with a predominance of concrete landscape with rain gardens and increased roadside and median vegetation.
Larger city projects, such as Amsterdam-like canals and drainage redirection into internal wetlands and storage basins, are also proposed. Their aesthetic benefits also offer the potential to raise property values, officials say.
A storm water agency to oversee theseprojects is also crucial to implementation, Davis said. He likened storm water management to the issue of coastal restoration and land loss, which roughly 25 years ago had no state or local oversight until a preliminary coastal plan was established.
“None of the area parishes has anyone who manages ground water,” Davis said. “That’s one thing that will likely have to change.”
Many of the methods recommended in the Urban Water Plan have been used in cities around the country to reduce the burden on aging and expensive sewage and drainage systems. Officials project the plan would eliminate flooding from a T5 storm (6 inches of rain fall in 24 hours) and substantially reduce the damage and effects of a T10 storm (11.5 inches in 24 hours).
Topping the implementation list are seven “demonstration projects” in three parishes. Among those is a 25-acre water garden in Gentilly, a site once occupied by the Congregation of St. Joseph that has sat empty since levee breaks and flooding after Hurricane Katrina decimated the church.
The site, donated to the city by the congregation, will be used as a park during dry times and as a “detention pond” during storms to protect nearby homes from flooding.
Other demonstration projects in New Orleans include “floating streets” with vegetation and permeable pavement in Lakeview, Dutch-style transformations of areas in eastern New Orleans and the Lafitte Greenway in Mid-City to turn dilapidated canals into duel-functioning water storage and public parks.
In Jefferson Parish, projects include canal improvements in Old Metairie and increased vegetation in parking lots and along roadways in the largely concrete and flood-prone Elmwood.
“It really is a paradigm shift. It’s a new way of doing things,” Jefferson Parish President John Young said of the plan.
In St. Bernard Parish, the plan calls for turning vacant lots that line the Forty Arpent Canal into a water storage system and park.
The plan also emphasizes “creative financing tools” paired with policy changes as a key way to secure funding to see the plan come to life. Michael Hecht, president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc., said funding options for the seven demonstration projects have been identified but not secured. He would not disclose those sources.
“Funding is currently being pursued, and GNO Inc. will be working with federal, state, and local governments, and industry and philanthropy to secure commitments for the demonstration projects,” Hecht said in an email.
On a smaller scale, Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant said the Planning Commission is in the early stage of revising New Orleans’ comprehensive zoning ordinance, and a storm water management component will be included.
In terms of changing the region’s relationship with storm water and re-envisioning New Orleans as “a water-city”, he said the change isn’t as daunting as it may seem on paper.
“We know how to do this,” Grant said. “We just forgot.” •
UNO taps students for storm water solutions
BY: Jessica Gonzalez, Reporter New Orleans City Business
The 2013 EPA Campus RainWorks challenge pits student-designed on-campus green infrastructure projects against one another for cash prizes.
Green infrastructure uses vegetation, soils, and natural processes to manage storm water and create healthier urban environments. While single-purpose “gray” storm water infrastructure, such as catch basins, pipes, and ponds, is largely designed to move urban storm water away from cities, green infrastructure uses vegetation to manage rainwater where it falls.
The concept has been widely discussed as a necessary means to combat subsidence and slow flooding in the greater New Orleans area, as displayed in the recently released GNO Urban Water Plan.
UNO sustainability coordinator Ben Shirtcliff explained that the competition serves a dual purpose, as UNO is currently revising their Campus Master Plan.
Shirtcliff said that the school’s previous master plan continued to build on the 1950s automobile model of a commuter campus lifestyle. Of UNO’s 250-acre lakefront campus and research park, currently the total paved or impervious surface area is roughly 105 acres, Shirtcliff said.
“The most exciting thing about this is that it is happening at such a great time in UNO’s history,” Shirtcliff said. “UNO is committed to shifting away from its commuter college image to become an urban research institution more fitting of its New Orleans context.”
The initial draft of the Campus Master Plan, he says, would have increased UNO’s total impervious surface area by 10 percent, making the lakefront campus one of the largest contributors to rainfall runoff and runoff pollution, in the greater New Orleans area.
“The increase infill of impervious material, including sidewalks, would seal off approximately 150 acres or 60 percent of the campus from ground water infiltration, a 30 percent overall increase,” Shirtcliff explained. “Our RainWorks team will depart from this systematic failure to consider how UNO’s campus can make the single, largest impact onto the long term health of our social, built, and physical environment.”
Shirtcliff says UNO students, faculty, and staff as well as members of the community who are interested in sustainability, water management, social and environmental justice, hazard mitigation, and artful water design are encouraged to participate this year in the development of a campus storm water master plan. Graduate students of the Louisiana State University Robert Reich School of Architecture will also be joining UNO’s RainWorks team.
Reporter Jessica Gonzalez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org