The Big Easy has a multibillion-dollar new philosophy for dealing with flooding: Let it happen. (At least in some spots.)
New Orleans is a low-lying city built on swampland, and its leaders are finally coming to terms with that hydrological reality. No longer will officials try to drain and pump out every drop of excess water that falls or flows their way.
Instead, under the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, floodwaters would be corralled into areas that serve as parks during drier times. Rain gardens and bioswales would help the earth suck up more of the rain that falls on it. And water would be funneled into year-round canals and ponds that support wildlife, improve soil quality, and generally pretty up the place.
The plan, which was developed in consultation with Dutch engineers, wouldn't shelter the city from catastrophic floods if its levees fail -- as happened after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But it would help turn the region's heavy rainfall from a hazard into an asset. That's becoming especially important, with Louisiana enduring America's fastest rates of sea-level rise and experiencing increasingly intense downpours as the globe warms up.
"We know how to do this. We just forgot," Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant said at a ceremony as the plan was unveiled on Friday. "We had to be reminded by our friends from the Netherlands."