Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan

The Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan focuses on the improved management of storm water, surface waters and groundwater in New Orleans, Louisiana, in response to flooding, land subsidence and “wasted water assets.” The primary area of focus is 155 miles of urban areas and 69 square miles of protected wetlands in Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes. The plan discusses how climate change threatens to raise the frequency of extreme weather events, and rising sea levels. Considered along with land subsidence, residents and economic assets are at great risk - and pumping stormwater and keeping floodwaters out are both projected to become more difficult over time.  

The Urban Water Plan outlines a 50-year program of systems retrofits and urban design strategies that emphasize slowing and storing stormwater rather than pumping, circulating surface water and recharging groundwater, creating vital public spaces around water, and incorporating natural elements and processes into the operation of an integrated water system. According to the report, Greater New Orleans relies on forced drainage systems for stormwater management which is expensive and resource-intensive, yet streets still flood regularly due to rainfall. This approach is also the primary cause of subsidence in the region, and diminishes the value of the region’s waterways and water bodies as public assets.

The Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan is actually a set of three reports with cross-referenced information - the Vision report presenting the Urban Water Plan, an Urban Design report, and the Implementation report. 

The Vision report presents the components of the proposed “Integrated Living Water System” and considers the approach overall to be climate adaptive. The system entails:

Small-scale Retrofits in streets, on individual properties, in parks, interceptor and in squares and plazas slow and store stormwater, catching and street infiltrating water where it falls. Interceptor streets on high ground are a critical subset of small-scale retrofits.

Circulating Canals in the region’s bowls and lowlands recharge groundwater and sustain local habitats. During wet weather, they continue to serve as drainage conduits.

Strategic Parklands at key junctures of the integrated living water system contain vast quantities of stormwater during heavy rains, while providing valuable open space and recreational amenities.

Integrated Wetlands located within strategic parklands and distributed throughout the region store and filter stormwater and dry weather flows. Existing wetlands are restored with treated wastewater and filtered stormwater.

Integrated Waterworks are the water treatment plants, drainage pump pumps, siphons, sluices, weirs, and gates that contain, draw, redirect, and filter stormwater, surface water, groundwater, drinking water, siphon sewage, and industrial wastewater. They are the components that establish the flows and rhythms of the living water system.

Regional Monitoring Networks for surface water and groundwater provide system managers with real-time data that are necessary to address immediate drainage needs and long-term trends in water levels and water quality, and to maintain higher water levels without compromising safety.

Waterfront Development Zones around key waterways and parklands anchor the development of higher-density, multi-use districts defined by urban water assets.

The Urban Design report is geared towards planning and design professionals. This report tests water planning principles through design drawings at the system, basin, district, and demonstration project scales.

The Implementation report presents the value and economic impact of the Water Plan and outlines an action plan for implementation that includes prioritization and phasing of proposed strategies, financing tools, policy and community action recommendations, existing jurisdictions, and potential partners.

Within the Implementation report, “the Water Plan: Strategies, Phasing and Cost” chapter defines integrated water management, details the incremental and cost-effective process of “smart retrofits,” and breaks down the costs associated with  implementing the proposed strategies. 

The chapter then outlines many funding mechanisms, from funding sources like grants and awards from various government entities, to innovative funding mechanisms like public-private partnerships; regulatory structures; fees, credits, and incentives; and other means to stimulate private investment and pay for public projects.



In 2010, the State of Louisiana’s Office of Community Development - Disaster Recovery Unit funded Greater New Orleans, Inc. to develop the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan using federal Community Development Block Grant - Disaster Recovery funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The New Orleans firm Waggonner & Ball Architects led a team of local and international water management experts to develop the Plan. 


Publication Date: November 2013

Related Organizations:

  • City of New Orleans, Louisiana

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  • Plans (other)

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