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Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan

Waggonner and ball logotype black

Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan

Rethinking New Orleans by focusing first on water.

The New Orleans region has been surrounded and defined by water since its founding nearly 300 years ago. Now partially below sea level on the Mississippi River delta, the area is fortified by a perimeter levee protection system designed to reduce risk from a 100-year storm event. However, flooding from frequent rainfall and land subsidence from current drainage practices remain critical challenges.

The Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan is a water-based landscape and urban design proposal that illustrates how the region can live with water rather than fight against it. Building on the knowledge and partnerships developed during the firm's Dutch Dialogues symposia, Waggonner & Ball led a team of over twenty firms and expert advisors to develop the multi-scaled, actionable strategy.

The Water Plan spans four volumes and over twenty district and demonstration reports, all available at livingwithwater.com.

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The water plan is a comprehensive vision for the region's future.
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Historic waterways, like the Lafitte Canal, bridge history and contemporary function.
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Typical existing drainage infrastructure in the region.
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Infrastructure should provide multiple benefits for people and the environment.
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10 year rain event model, existing conditions
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10 year rain event model, full Water Plan implementation
  • Year
  • Download the Plan
  • Cost
    $6.2 Billion
    (full implementation)
  • Benefits
    $22 Billion
    (reduced flood and subsidence damages; reduced insurance premiums; increased property values; regional economic impact)

The Water Plan integrates infrastructure planning and urban design across three hydrological basins. It employs a multi-layered, ground-up approach that is science-based, place-based, and adaptable. The plan proposes a new investment model for public works, wherein spending on streets, canals, pump stations, and stormwater detention basins enhances the public spaces that are so vital to life in the region, and yields opportunities for economic growth and development. Proposed retrofits strengthen the function of existing water systems, make use of undervalued water assets, and enhance key corridors. 

The Urban Water Plan is a comprehensive vision for the region in the 21st century, built as much on each basin’s history, geology, and geography, as it is on shared challenges and opportunities. The Water Plan is a living document created to inspire and guide long-range planning and strategic investments for the next fifty years. 

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The Water Plan focuses on all aspects of water within Greater New Orleans' East Bank perimeter protection.
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The layered planning approach: soil and water, infrastructure networks, structures and people.
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Rethinking rainfall and groundwater within the urban delta adds multiple lines of defense.
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New Orleans' 20th century drainage approach removed water as fast as possible.
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The Water Plan proposes slowing and using water, and draining as a last resort.
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The plan addresses three main issues: flooding from intense rainfall that overwhelms existing drainage systems; subsidence, the sinking of the ground, caused by drying out organic soils; and wasted water assets that are hidden behind walls, buried underground, or pumped out of the city. The plan includes system, district, and demonstration project proposals, and implementation strategies that are structured as practical retrofits--rather than as wholesale replacements. Five key principles structure the plan:

1) Slow and Store: Hold rain where it falls, slow the flow of water across the landscape, and store large volumes of rainfall for infiltration and other uses. Activate pump stations only when necessary, rather than as a default every time it rains.

2) Circulate and Recharge: Incorporate surface water flows and higher water levels into everyday water management to improve groundwater balance, water quality, and the region’s ecological health.

3) Work with Nature: Integrate natural processes with mechanical systems to enhance the function, beauty, and resilience of the region’s water infrastructure and landscape.

4) Design for Adaptation: Design systems for dynamic delta conditions, and support diverse uses, economic development, and environmental restoration to maximize the value of necessary water infrastructure investments.

5) Work Together: Collaborate across neighborhood, cultural, and political boundaries and developing solutions at all scales—from individual properties to regional networks.

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National Association of Development Organizations Innovation Award


APA National Planning Excellence Award for Environmental Planning