Stopping Rainstorm Flooding in Our Own Back Yards

Lousiana’s

When Foundation for Louisiana's 2014 Environmental Sustainability working group met to develop a project focused on New Orleans' Claiborne Avenue Corridor, their first challenge was simply to decide what they meant by "sustainability." As Jeff Supak of Global Green USA's New Orleans office explains, participants brought different perspectives – some cultural, some neighborhood, some environmental, and some simply tired of repeated street flooding from New Orleans' typical "gullywasher" summer rainstorms.

The different perspectives provided crucial balance as the group honed in on specific project ideas, Supak said. “Without people rooted in the community, we would not have come up with a project that relates to what is going on in the community,” he says.

Their discussions evolved into a project focused on helping residents to address rainwater issues in their own back (and front) yards. With a $50,000, 18-month grant from Foundation for Louisiana, the partnership led by Global Green’s local affiliate is engaging Claiborne corridor residents in mitigating street flooding and storm water management in their own neighborhood. In addition to Global Green New Orleans, the partners include Committee for a Better New Orleans, Sankofa Community Development Corporation, and neighborhood resident and urban designer Amy Stelly.

The work will combine identifying flooding hotspots, using “backyard-level” strategies such as rain barrels and planter boxes to address flooding problems, and working with citizen advocates to build support for broader policy incentives that could lower the cost of installing such tools. Working group members will interview neighborhood residents and institutions about flood-prone areas, map their findings, and engage local residents within flooding hotspots through block party work days that include demonstrations on how to install rain gardens, planter boxes and other DIY flood mitigation tools.

The project brings a practical set of strategies to the perennial problem of rainstorm flooding in New Orleans, in a way that is inclusive for all neighborhood residents. Its promise, says Supak, is that managing flood water on one’s own property is a great way to deal with rainwater “before it hits the streets.”

Stelly, who says she has always been fascinated with the power of water, “both good and bad,” sums up the project’s goal simply. “We want to help people to really understand the problem, and realize that they can be part of the solution,” she says.

At a time when the issue of everyday stormwater management has gained new visibility in New Orleans, the project presents a common-sense approach to engaging neighborhood residents in solving an age-old problem – a principle at the heart of Foundation for Louisiana’s work.

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