On July 10th mass flooding caused by unusually heavy rainfall brought back not so distant memories of the 2017 flood that left residents questioning the adequacy of our city’s pumping and drainage infrastructure, as well as the credibility of the Sewerage and Water Board. Like the already saturated soil, New Orleanians had no time to absorb this particular event before confronting an additional threat – more rainfall forecasted from Tropical Storm/ Hurricane Barry. This caused quite a panic around town.
As a city with approximately 417,000 residents living below sea level, we are extremely vulnerable to water in the form of rainfall, levee overtopping, and storm surge. Recent events have highlighted that much of our existence depends on the capacity of our pumping and drainage system (from catch basin to lake), which includes pumping stations, canals, catch basins and small/ large drain lines. Shared responsibility for maintaining our city’s drainage system has led to breakdowns in the past.
During our recent event, we received between 7 to 8 inches of rain in only 3 hours. According to New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board director, Ghassan Korban, the already antiquated pumps could not keep up with the rainfall. As designed, our pumping system can only handle an inch of rain in the first hour and a half inch every hour thereafter. Even on the Sewerage and Water Board’s finest day (all pumps and equipment working), we would have still seen flooding on July 10th. This leads me to the subject of drainage.
In many areas that experienced flooding, the pumps were operational raising questions regarding the effectiveness of our city’s 72,000 catch basins. Only 30,000 of which, have been professionally cleaned by the City with a vacuum truck since 2017. The average person can only do so much to remove decades buildup of leaves, mud, roots, Mardi Gras beads and whatever else finds its way into our catch basins. We must prioritize and expedite the cleaning of our city’s entire system of catch basins and small drain lines. No need to study the effects of clogs – just clean them.
Next, we need to find additional sources of funding to implement new flood mitigation measures. The Gentilly Resilience District is an expensive pilot program that incorporates several aspects of water management including recreation, beautification, education and storm water management. The Mirabeau Water Garden is an example of a Blue/ Green Corridor in Gentilly that will be a 26-acre park that will hold 10 million gallons of water near the London Avenue Canal – think Amsterdam. That’s the direction we need to be heading in.
Finally, as a city on the frontlines of climate change, we have an opportunity to lead in the areas of storm water management and green infrastructure. Our early investment in these areas will benefit other parts of Louisiana, the country and various places around the world. A focus on these emerging areas could create new economies and workforce development opportunities for our residents. Clearly, we must continue our commitment to the state’s Coastal Master Plan and invest new funds secured by Mayor Cantrell’s infrastructure deal, but this alone will not suffice to adequately protect our loved ones and property. We have to be at the forefront of innovative solutions, which will require funding from the state and federal government.
It is imperative that District 98 elect a proven consensus builder. After launching two statewide organizations and serving as a state commissioner on the Louisiana Environmental Education Commission, I have the contacts and relationships to successfully advocate for our city in Baton Rouge.
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