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New Orleans, St. Tammany work to keep new development from increasing flood risk

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(WVUE) -

Houston’s catastrophic flooding last month brought to the surface for the world to see the fact that the nation’s fourth-largest city has unrestrained development and no zoning.

But in the New Orleans area, local governments said that is not the case, and they continue to take steps to make sure new development does not result in added flooding risks.

"In New Orleans, we faced similar environmental conditions like Houston, excessive rainfall,” said New Orleans Deputy Mayor Jeff Hebert.

The New Orleans area doesn't come close to mirroring the population of the Greater Houston area. Still, local governments are working to keep new development from being a catalyst for an increased flooding risk.

"In August of 2015, the city put together Article 23 which is a storm water regulation that has any development over 5,000 square feet of impervious surface where water, concrete and water, couldn't actually go through to actually retain the first inch and a quarter of the water on-site, so that we won't continue to stress the pumping system,” said Hebert.

Across Lake Pontchartrain on the North Shore, St. Tammany Parish is also pro-active in that area.

“St.Tammany Parish is fortunate to have a drainage ordinance in place already that requires developments, new developments coming into the parish, to reduce the amount of flow coming off those developments by 25 percent post-construction,” said Chief Administrative Officer Gina Campo.

After Katrina, elevation requirements changed in some areas.

"If we think about stricter elevation requirements, this can be expensive initially for developers and homeowners, and I think can be seen as an anti-development measure, and we know that a lot of local officials are trying to create an environment that's friendly to developers. But in the long run, I think it's about creating communities that are going to be better protected from extreme weather events,” Marla Nelson, Associate Professor in UNO’s Department of Planning and Urban Studies.

Nelson spoke of other steps improvements that communities could fully embrace.

"Certainly there can be local land-use requirements that require how much of the area of the lot can be developed and have some, you know, non-landscape surface on it but there are now different types of paving bricks and what-not that can allow water, more water to flow and I think in New Orleans we've made some progress since Katrina,” she said.

New Orleans and St. Tammany said myriad efforts are underway.

"What we've been working on is a large scale green infrastructure program to bring water retention and bio-swales and those sorts of projects to the city. We have about $250 million in projects that are in development, there are about 18 of them.  The first one is coming out of the ground at Dillard University right now,” Hebert stated.

"Our development department has undertaken over the last year a major upgrade to our development code which includes tightening up our drainage ordinances and requiring more consistent and in many cases more rigorous storm water management in new subdivisions and other commercial developments in the parish and that is something we're actually going to be rolling out in the next couple of months,” Campo stated.

It is also important to note that the Houston areas was hammered by extraordinary amounts of rain.

"You know, 50 inches is pretty tough,” said Nelson.

“It is not that any city could take on 51 inches of rain at one time,” Hebert said.

Locally, the Urban Conservancy has developed what’s called the Front Yard Initiative. It is an incentive program that  encourages homeowners to take steps to manage rain that falls on their property by allowing it slow down, spread out, or sink in before it reaches catch basin.

More information at urbanconservancy.org/fyi.

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