Classes teach ways to manage rainwater _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- The Green Keepers program focuses on ways to keep rainwater out of the sewers and prevent flooding. Above, a rain barrel collects runoff.

Anyone whose street floods during a hard rain can appreciate the value of Green Keepers, the newest program of Parkway Partners, co-sponsored by the Sewerage & Water Board.

“Green Keepers will bring the community together with the most highly regarded professionals in our area working in stormwater management,” said Susannah Burley, designer of the Green Keepers program and a landscape architect at Parkway Partners. “The idea behind it is to build understanding in the community of how to handle stormwater to prevent flooding and keep runoff out of the sewer system as much as possible.”

The program focuses on the study of “green infrastructure,” which Burley described as a system of practices that mimic how nature handled rainwater before man intervened with hard roofs, asphalt parking lots and other nonporous surfaces.

“What green infrastructure does is manage the water at its point of introduction, before it ever reaches the underground drainage pipes,” Burley explained. “At a residence, it could be something like installing a water barrel to collect roof runoff instead of diverting the water through downspouts to the street.”

The series of classes begins Tuesday, Sept. 9, and is made possible by a grant from the Sewerage & Water Board, which recently awarded funds to several nonprofits via its Green Infrastructure Initiatives program. Other groups winning grants are the Louisiana Urban Stormwater Coalition, the Land Trust of Louisiana, Ripple Effects and Groundwork New Orleans.

“We chose an educational track and modeled Green Keepers on our Tree Troopers program, which has helped restore the tree canopy damaged by Hurricane Katrina,” Burley said. “There won’t be a minimum number of volunteer hours that Green Keepers will have to devote to the community after they complete their training, but we will be expecting them to take what they learn back to their neighborhoods or nonprofits and develop ideas for green infrastructure projects. I will work with them in planning and implementing what they come up with.”

Burley said there are a variety of approaches, both small-scale and large, to reducing runoff and that planting trees goes a long way toward building green infrastructure.

“Trees help in general because they soak up water through their roots, but some trees are thirstier than others, so knowing what kind of trees to plant is important,” Burley said. “A bald cypress, for example, is one that consumes more water than many others.”

Burley said that runoff from an increasing number of paved residential parking areas adds significantly to stormwater management problems in many neighborhoods.

“I think solid concrete drives and parking pads used to be thought of as a sign of progress, so everyone wanted to have one instead of gravel or something else, but now we’re seeing the kind of issues they cause,” she said. “Water flows off the concrete pad straight to the street and to the storm drain. If the material used for the parking area were permeable, then a lot of rainwater would be absorbed at the point of contact and the rest of it slowed down to reduce its erosional force.”

Sessions in the Green Keepers curriculum will cover the following topics:

“Introduction to Green Infrastructure” by Joe Evans of Evans + Lighter; “Plants for Green Infrastructure” by Dana Brown of Dana Brown & Associates; “Vertical Gardens and Rooftop Gardens” by Emily Bullock of Spackman, Mossop and Michaels; “Concrete and Permeability” by Dana Eness of the Urban Conservancy; “Green Infrastructure at Urban Farms and Community Gardens” by Dan Etheridge of Colectivo and Tony Lee of the Magellan Street Garden; and “Bioswales and Rain Gardens” by Dana Brown of Dana Brown & Associates.

The Green Keepers program is free, but enrollees must commit to attending all sessions. To learn more and register, go to Space is limited.

R. Stephanie Bruno writes about houses and gardens. Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @rstephaniebruno.