Leaving a Water Legacy with Hands-On Work

When WEFTEC descends, bringing up to 25,000 people and six football fields worth of exhibits, it’s hard for a city not to notice that water geeks are in town.  But in recent years, organizers have begun to ask the question “What’s left after we go?”

Undoubtedly we leave tons of landfill material behind, much of which could be avoided, but that’s another blog for another time. On a more positive note, the water industry’s students and young professionals have been making sure that we leave a lasting (positive!) impact on water quality through green stormwater infrastructure projects.

This year’s undertaking addressed a flood-prone area where water pouring off of the top deck of a City Hall parking garage pooled, creating a hazard for drivers and pedestrians alike in the rain-rich city of New Orleans.  Donohue ran a blog that described it succinctly:

“More than 100 volunteers from the water and wastewater industry recently spent a day installing green infrastructure landscaping on the grounds of City Hall in New Orleans. The 9th annual Water Environment Federation Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC) community service project …. includes two bioswales to alleviate street flooding and protect local waterways by capturing, filtering, and conveying stormwater runoff from City Hall structures. With its location in downtown New Orleans at City Hall, the project is highly visible in the community, helping promote awareness of these stormwater solutions and their benefits.”

I made it over in time to see the ribbon cutting and final product, but managed to accidentally delete most of my photos. Fortunately, Lance Manabe amd Audrey Haerle, both WEF delegates from the great state of Hawaii, allowed me to use a few of theirs!

In the images below, you can see the downspout (top left) coming off of the parking garage where, on rainy days, water cascades down, and previously would hit the compacted lawn and then run immediately across the sidewalk and into the road. In the next image to the right, you can see the area below the downspout, and volunteers preparing the substrate as well as a bit of the infrastructure that will be hidden once the plantings are place.  If I hadn’t deleted the photos of the finished work, you’d be able to see the stone structure  (about 12′ tall by 24″ wide, running from building to sidewalk) that was built immediately below the downspout to absorb the brunt of the falling water and gently disperse it horizontally across the bioswale.

To most passers by, the completed bioswale probably doesn’t look all that different than other professionally landscaped stretches. The difference, however, is in what lies beneath the soil. In this particular case, given the tight constraints and high volume of water, the city chose to use FocalPoint biofiltration system to filter the water and rapidly move it underground, away from the street, and into the groundwater table where it’s needed to help stem the subsidence which plagues the city.  You can see hints of that structure with the corrugated tubing (probably to help disperse the water throughout the bioswale) and the concrete box (bottom left) which I presume is part of the FocalPoint structure.



At the end of the day,  Paul Bowen,WEF’s President and Cedric Grant, Executive Director of the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans (each of whom had leant a hand with the work!) stood in front of the microphones to thank the assembled group for “leaving a water legacy” for New Orleans. The volunteers pictured here (including Lance Manabe, center photo) make the work look easy, but let me assure you that with moist, subtropical temperatures there was no shortage of sweating!

So, the next time you’re in New Orleans (even better if it’s a raining), go see it for yourself. The parking garage is a pretty recognizable building, and it’s on Poydras Street right across from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. And while you’re there, remembering that WEF members left a legacy for New Orleans, think about your own. How do you want to be remembered in your own town? #MyWaterLegacy

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