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Urban water plan unveiled

Plan was unveiled before dozens at the Port of New Orleans. Plan was unveiled before dozens at the Port of New Orleans.

New Orleans, La. - Billions of dollars in storm surge protection surround a lot of the New Orleans area since Hurricane Katrina swamped the city eight years ago. And now local leaders have joined with the private sector to develop a plan to bring water closer to where residents live.

Constant rainfall over a short period of time can still test pumping capacity. But local leaders said Friday that focusing on pumping out all of the water should not be a part of this area's future.

"We've treated water as a liability and rightfully so, with the experiences we've had. But we can use water as an asset," said Jefferson Parish President John Young.

Dozens gathered at the Port of New Orleans to unveil the Urban Water Plan. It calls for innovative infrastructure as well as changing attitudes about water.

"If we don't deal with interior water management in the correct way, we're going to continue to flood when we have big rains and we're going to continue to sink, which makes issues of levees and coastal that much more important," said Michael Hecht, CEO of GNO Inc.

The plan calls for more retention of storm water, something that would necessitate more ponds and canals, and some that would connect neighborhoods. Heavy emphasis would be on aesthetics.

"Better ditches, which are planted, which will allow water to flow... You'll see permeable paved streets, which is basically going to allow this new concrete that allows the water to go through the street," said New Orleans Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant.

Jefferson Parish has a jump-start. After Katrina, Pontiff Playground in Metairie was walled in by an earthen berm and pipes. The parish intentionally floods it during heavy rainfall to keep water out of homes. And green space along the Earhart Expressway in Jefferson Parish is outfitted the same way to aid in the battle against street flooding.

Proponents of the plan said it would encourage business development and residency.

Implementation of the plan carries a $6.2 billion price tag. The economic impact estimate is put at $11.3 billion.

"What you begin to have happen is what happened to the Dutch in Europe, where the Dutch drive four to five percent of their GDP by selling their water management technology around the world," stated Hecht.

Shortly after Katrina, FOX 8 was in the Netherlands as a delegation of Louisiana examined how the Dutch live with the water. Now experts from that area are consulting on the proposed venture here.

"The big problem of New Orleans was that it was not safe, so it didn't make much sense to invest in all the other things.  Now you're safe, you have the foundation, now you can go into business," said consultant Piet Dirke.

When it comes to plans for retaining storm water in communities, mosquito abatement must be part of the discussion, officials agreed.

"Mosquito control is part of the team that is going to do this education… there are plant materials that help mosquitoes not thrive," stated Grant.

Federal, state, local and private funding would be sought for the plan.

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