Local startups work with city to manage stormwater, build out green infrastructure | New Orleans CityBusiness

Photo courtesy WAMorgan, DepositPhotos.

When the sky opens up and an afternoon deluge swamps neighborhoods across New Orleans, it may seem only logical to want to pump that water out as quickly as possible.

For most of the city’s history, officials and engineers put countless hours and immeasurable effort into doing just that. But, over the past decade, the wisdom of focusing only on pumping stormwater out has been called into question.

Advances in engineering, landscape architecture, and green design have combined with cost-saving techniques pioneered by local green startups. Now, officials are harnessing all that energy to install elements of a green infrastructure across New Orleans.

“In the last 10 years alone, I saw a shift,” said Ghassan Korban, executive director of the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board. “Here, I think the biggest driver is capturing water where it falls to kind of hold it back from going into the canals, so it doesn’t overwhelm the pumping capacity.”

Nearly every New Orleans citizen has a working knowledge of the city’s pumping capacity. If more than one or two inches of rain falls within a 60-minute span, low-lying areas will flood.

Korban said the mindset shift he has seen focuses on directing rainfall into a wide array of holding areas, from residential rain gardens and cisterns to massive underground tanks designed to fill up as it rains and then slowly release that captured water into the system as the pumps catch up.

“We get a lot of rain, we often get it very quickly, we get these sort of cloudbursts, and it causes flooding, but it also just overtaxes our drainage system,” said Meagan Williams, the urban water program manager with the City of New Orleans Office of Resilience and Sustainability. “Every drop of rain that falls during a rainfall event, for the most part, goes into the drainage system and then gets pumped out into Lake Pontchartrain. It’s an old system, as everyone knows. It was never designed to meet the demands of what it’s having to do right now.”

Williams has helped spearhead a variety of efforts to trap and store rainwater …


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