The backers of a citywide water management plan gathered Tuesday to discuss the plan’s implementation and progress, a month ahead of the announcement of a grant that, if awarded, would significantly increase funding for their efforts.
The Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, unveiled in 2013, lays out methods for turning New Orleans into a basin in order to block subsidence, a phenomenon that has caused soil under the city to shrink and the land at the surface to sink.
Walling off the Mississippi River with levees and pumping out stormwater as quickly as possible have helped keep water out of the city’s streets and yards but significantly worsened the subsidence problem, officials said.
The 2013 plan, administered by Greater New Orleans Inc. and led by Waggonner & Ball Architects and a team of local and Dutch water management experts, aims to solve this problem by keeping water in open drainage canals, turning empty lots into rain gardens, covering streets and parking lots with water-absorbing materials and other techniques.
Although the state Office of Community Development’s Disaster Recovery Unit provided an initial $2.5 million for the plan’s published reports, implementing it will depend on winning continued private, federal, state and local financing.
A large chunk of that could come from the federal National Disaster Resiliency Competition, a grant program that will award a total of $1 billion to communities across the country that are working to improve their ability to respond to disasters. Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes are among the applicants. Funding decisions are expected in January.
Comments Tuesday seemed geared more toward pointing up previously publicized progress ahead of that announcement than unveiling new information.
Officials touted the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Collaborative, which focuses solely on the city’s water issues; the Ripple Effect, a program designed to promote “water literacy” among students; and the Sewerage & Water Board’s $500,000 annual, five-year commitment to green infrastructure pilot projects.
Also highlighted Tuesday were the city’s much-touted project to develop the Mirabeau Water Garden in Gentilly, a project it hopes to fund with national grant money; the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority’s six rain gardens in various city neighborhoods; and changes to the city’s comprehensive zoning ordinance that require new developments to retain, detain and filter the first 1.25 inches of stormwater runoff during each rain event.
Jefferson Parish officials, also present, touted their design work for the Joseph S. Yenni Building parking lot, which will incorporate water retention and will be a first step in advancing the parish’s larger Elmwood Fields project, a water management demonstration detailed in the parish’s federal application.
Mentioned after the event were NORA’s plans for a water education site on Broad Street near Dillard University and the Interstate 610 overpass, though that project is not completed.
Such projects help not only to secure the area’s sustainability but also to boost employment opportunities, officials said.
The Data Center predicts the water-management sector will yield 12,000 diverse, high-paying jobs between 2015 and 2019, said Robin Barnes, GNO Inc.’s chief operating officer and executive vice president.
Michael Hecht, GNO’s president and CEO, also pointed to the effect the plan has on New Orleans’ national image 10 years after Hurricane Katrina. “Greater New Orleans is pivoting from being seen as the passive victim of disaster to the active master of disaster,” he said.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.