Water Sustainability: Where do we stand 10 years later?

In the midst of the 10 Year Commemoration of Katrina, many citizens wonder: how well are we living with water today?  As a part of a longer series of reflecting upon our green efforts since the storm, we are a taking a focus this month on water management.

Living with water

The Integrated Living Water System is designed to dilate in the case of a storm, with small scale retrofits, waterways, strategic parklands, and wetlands that can fill with thousands of acre feet of stormwater. ~Livingwithwater.com

Our greatest challenges managing water in New Orleans include:

  • Flooding: the City resembles a bowl, with levees on the perimeter, that fills up when it rains, and
  • Subsidence: the City is built upon old Mississippi River sediment, and our land is slowly sinking – hence all of those pot holes!

Since Katrina, New Orleans, in partnership with the surrounding parishes, the state, and federal government, has made tremendous development in this area.  A brief summary of our progress is described below.



  • 2005-2006: Following Katrina, Congress authorized and funded the construction of the $14 Billion, 100-year level risk reduction system, known as the Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System (HSDRRS).  The HSDRRS includes five parishes (Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, St. Charles, and Plaquemines) and consists of 350 miles of levees and floodwalls; 73 non-Federal pumping stations; 3 canal closure structures with pumps; and 4 gated outlets.  A group of concerned environmental advocates gathered to form the MRGO Must Go Coalition, to ensure adequate protection and rebuilding of ecosystems lost from the storm.
  • 2006 – present: To inspire smart design through rebuilding efforts, Waggonner and Ball Architects organized a series of Dutch Dialogues workshops, which brings together designers, planners, engineers, and policy-makers from the Netherlands and Louisiana to learn from each other and to place water issues at the forefront of planning and design for the Greater New Orleans region.
  • In 2007, the Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) deauthorized the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) – a shipping canal that funneled storm surge during Katrina and devastated surrounding wetlands – and required that the channel be closed.
  • In 2010, the City adopted its first Master Plan, New Orleans 2030, which included a “Living with Water and Natural Hazards” section that called for the development of a stormwater management plan and a stormwater management unit for the Sewage and Water Board.  The City also updated its Hazard Mitigation Plan in 2010 to include a focus on green infrastructure and explored a variety of projects to reduce risk.
  • 2013 – Inspired by these discussions, Greater New Orleans Inc.released the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, developed by Waggonner and Ball, along with a team of international and local experts.  Soon after, New Orleans launched its Green Infrastructure Plan, a formal commitment by the Sewage and Water Board of New Orleans (SWBNO) to provide $500,000 a year to green infrastructure for the next five years.
  • 2014 – The incredible efforts lead by the Louisiana Water Network (previously known as the Horizon Water Initiative) and many inspired leaders and citizens working hard to improve sustainable water systems lead to the formation of the Greater New Orleans Water Collaborative (GNOWC). Today, GNOWC includes a network of over 100 individuals, organizations, government agencies, and communities working to coordinate education, research and policy, advocacy, and public engagement on critical water issues in the Greater New Orleans region.
  • 2015 – New Orleans adopts its first every Resilience Strategy, the first City to adopt a plan of this kind as a part of Rockefeller’s 100 Resilient Cities Program.  This strategy integrates our strategies to protect our social, environmental, and economic resources.

“The Water Collaborative represents a unique and inspiring effort of how a diverse group of community-led organizations can play a critical role in improving water management,” says Miriam Belblidia, Interim Steering Committee member of the GNOWC.

As seen above, there has been great success in building a more resilient urban water landscape.  In a city that loves its seafood, we should be building a resilient community that protects our interconnected coastal and urban water habitats.  There is still much work to be done to reduce stormwater run off, storm water pollution, flooding and subsidence, and to protect our coastal ecosystems.

According to The Data Center, New Orleans has all the ingredients to become a national leader in water management. By catalyzing incoming government funding from the RESTORE Act, incentivizing private and public giving, and cultivating water-centered workforce development, New Orleans could become an international leader.  Propeller, a Force for Social Innovation, just recently was awarded $300,000 to support water innovation alongside existing entrepreneurs like Water Works, L3C.

To learn more about some specific strategies, visit the MRGO Coalition’s Report 10th Anniversary of Katrina: Making New Orleans a Sustainable Delta City for the Next Century, Greater New Orleans Inc.’s Urban Water Management Plan, and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation’s Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy.  To get involved in building a more sustainable water management system in our community, contact the NOLA Water Collaborative.

“Water is the foundation of Louisiana’s economy and quality of life,” says Steve Picou of the LWN. “The Louisiana Water Network connects people and resources to build the Louisiana water economy.”

As an individual, learn more about the Water Wise program to be smart with water in your home.  As an organization, learn more about water management in your building by getting a free assessment from LifeCity.

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