On The Issues: Water

Living With Water


The Importance Of Water Management

In South Louisiana, water is part of our lives. It surrounds us–the Gulf, the Mississippi, bayous, lakes, and other waterways. Water plays a huge role in our society. We build our houses, our infrastructure, our careers, and our businesses around water. Water management is essentially taking steps to make sure that water is a part of our lives in the way that we want it to be. Some past methods of water management have worked for Louisiana, while others have not. The Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan provides specific plans for future water management for the Greater New Orleans Region.

While this plan is specific to the New Orleans region, the principles of water management apply to every corner of our state. Geographic factors of each region dictate how an area interacts with and manages water.


The Threats Of Poor Water Management

According to the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, past water management techniques in the New Orleans area have focused on removing the water from the cities as quickly as possible through a series of drainage canals, pipes, and pumps. This form of water management alone is problematic for two main reasons: flooding and subsidence. Hurricane Katrina illustrated the problem with relying solely on this system and what can happen when the walls holding the water in the canals—the levees—do not hold. Much of the New Orleans area flooded. Removing the water from beneath our feet also causes subsidence, the sinking of the ground. Subsidence is a result of dry soils, largely caused by current drainage practices that pump out every drop that falls as quickly as possible. Without a natural flow of water, the soil below our concrete is depleted of nutrients, causing it to widen and shrivel like a used up sponge.

Flooding and subsidence, two problems caused by past water management techniques, have had definitively negative consequences for the people and the businesses of south Louisiana. Besides catastrophic flooding such as that experienced with Hurricane Katrina, routine heavy rains can make roads impassable and can cause property damage. This can negatively affect residents and businesses alike. Damage to the ground—including roads—in addition to constant repairs, can slow business down. It can damage property and discourage outside investment in the New Orleans region.


A New Water Management Plan

The Greater New Orleans Water Plan brings new ideas to water management in the New Orleans area. In 2010, the State of Louisiana’s Office of Community Development – Disaster Recovery Unit funded Greater New Orleans, Inc. (GNO, Inc.) to develop the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan for the east banks of Orleans and Jefferson Parishes and for St. Bernard Parish. New Orleans architecture firm Waggonner & Ball led a team of water management experts in developing the Urban Water Plan.

In contrast to the old water management methods which focused on draining the water out of the cities as quickly as possible, Waggonner & Ball’s water management plans, outlined in the Water Plan, integrate the water into our cities. Instead of using pumps at the first rain, the Water Plan encourages storing water in retention receptacles like rain gardens to slow its drainage. It also encourages allowing groundwater to remain in place, which combats subsidence. The Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan proposes new infrastructure, changes to new construction, and buy-in from the residents.


Results Of Good Water Management

While implementation of the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan is challenging and will require time and money, the potential benefits to updating water management policies are plentiful. Reducing the risk of flooding and subsidence in and around New Orleans makes the region stronger and a better place to live and do business.


Opportunities For Businesses

As communities adopt good water management practices, businesses of all sizes can benefit. First, the proposed large-scale infrastructure projects will create construction projects. There is potential for local construction companies to complete much of this work. Next, if the Water Plan’s recommendations are adopted, and building codes are updated, there will be a need for local residential contractors and landscape architects to be skilled in the building practices that encourage good water management. These types of businesses will likely be in high demand, and they will be able to market themselves as the water management experts.


In Conclusion

The Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan addresses water management in the Greater New Orleans region based on the natural makeup of the area, current and future land use, and lessons learned from past water management techniques. The principles of water management—living with water and ensuring it positively impacts our communities—can be applied to every parish of Louisiana. Visit to learn more.

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