Work is underway that would allow City Park to be used as a mammoth retention pond, softening the impact of future storms by allowing massive amounts of water to be stored in its lagoons.

The project, funded by a $1 million donation from the Zurich Insurance Group to the Bayou District Foundation, is aimed at providing an area to collect stormwater from the neighborhoods that surround the park, relieving pressure on the city’s drainage system and protecting areas of the park itself, including the golf course that’s now under construction.

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The project, expected to be completed in the next month, is part of the Bayou District Foundation’s efforts in the area, which also include the nearby Columbia Parc mixed-income community and support for the golf course itself.

It also ties in with the city’s larger water management strategy for the area, including the Gentilly Resilience District, a strategy funded by a $141 million grant to reduce flooding from City Park to the Industrial Canal by finding ways to live with the rain from major storms rather than simply focusing on pumping out the water as quickly as possible.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Tuesday that the City Park project fits in with those plans and his administration’s constant refrain over the past year of “resiliency” — a word even he acknowledged residents may be getting tired of hearing.

But, he argued, it’s important that as the city continues its recovery from Hurricane Katrina, the focus remains on the idea that “when you build back, build stronger and better.”

The linchpin to the project is a relatively simple flood-control structure: a weir, essentially a large concrete box that connects to the pipes that flow into the Orleans Avenue Canal. A similar structure has been in place at the site since the 1930s, allowing water overflowing the park’s lagoons to drain into the canal and be pumped out to the lake.

“Even though this is not sexy, it’s really critical,” Landrieu said.

The most significant improvement offered by the new weir is a gate that can be opened before a storm hits. That could allow the water level in the lagoons to be drawn down in advance by as much as 3 feet, providing room for more stormwater to be kept on the site.

When thus prepared for a storm, City Park would be able to hold enough stormwater to cover 400 football fields to a depth of 1 foot.

That could lead to multiple benefits that would reduce flooding in nearby areas, officials said. Water in neighborhoods including Lakeview, Lake Vista, Navarre and parts of Mid-City would be able to drain into the lower-lying park, potentially reducing the amount of water on the streets or threatening buildings. In addition, the additional storage capacity means rain falling on the park itself would not spill out into other areas.

Once the water has made it into the park’s lagoons and fields, it can be released gradually into the drainage system. That would free up capacity to drain and pump other areas of the city and would fit in with efforts, such as the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, to allow water to be absorbed naturally into the ground to prevent subsidence in the city.

The announcement came as the Zurich Classic, the annual PGA golf tournament sponsored by the insurance company, is set to get underway this week. Officials hinted that the tournament could eventually be moved from its current location at TPC Louisiana on the West Bank to City Park.

The golf course now under construction at the park is expected to cost about $26 million, with about $16 million of that coming from the state. The rest came from donations in partnership with the Bayou District Foundation.

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