Problem: Most parts of New Orleans are below sea level, enclosed by a levee system designed to protect the city from hurricane storm surges and built to keep water out from surrounding swamp land. Every time rain falls in New Orleans—an average of five feet annually and on occasions 8 inches per hour—the water winds through a system of underground drainage pipes and canals and gets eventually pumped over the levees back into Lake Pontchartrain by 120 pumps. Sometimes the pumps get overwhelmed so that the storm water backs up and slowly fills up the “bowl,” flooding parts of the city. Once the pumps catch up they ironically also pump groundwater out of the city, causing the ground to dry out and collapse. This leads to subsidence, which aggravates the problem. New Orleans sinks into the ground between 1/4 - 3/4 inches per year depending on the area. Combined with rising sea levels, faster strengthening hurricanes and the loss of wetlands, subsidence makes New Orleans one of the most vulnerable cities to climate change.

Solution: Storing water in rain barrels, rain gardens and retention ponds not only reduces flooding but also helps mitigate subsidence. Combining de-paving and tree planting with these solutions will allow retaining the first 1 1/4 inches of rain fall, a number suggested by scientists and urban planners. Pumping the water out of the city consumes a gigantic amount of energy, creating a carbon footprint that can be dramatically reduced by retaining the water and slowly releasing it into the ground after a rain storm.To address these issues, Green Light New Orleans created a large scale rain barrel installation pilot program for New Orleans area households. Participants capture rainwater in barrels, which they either release it once the ground is dry; or use to irrigate their garden. The catchment system diverts some of the water that would otherwise runoff into storm drains causing flooding. For those using the water for irrigation, it helps conserve municipal water use. Funding for the program is generously provided by the Entergy Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Allianz Foundation, and Green Light donors. Learn more about the rain barrel program.

Take action: Sign up for our Rain Barrel Program


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