Urban Water

Turning urban water issues into urban water solutions.

The Greater New Orleans Foundation (GNOF) launched the Urban Water Series given the region’s increasing issues with soil subsidence and stormwater-related runoff. Thus far, the work has happened in three phases.

Phase 1

In the summer of 2013, the Foundation invited national experts on green infrastructure and stormwater management from five vanguard U.S. cities to share with local practitioners their learnings and strategies about green infrastructure and stormwater management through a series of five workshops. Around 400 people participated in these conversations.

Phase 2

In the fall of 2014, the Foundation brought a diverse group of 26 city government, nonprofit and community leaders interested in water management issues to Austin, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee to experience firsthand how these cities scaled their green infrastructure and stormwater management strategies. Then Councilwoman and now Mayor of New Orleans LaToya Cantrell participated in the Austin and Philadelphia trips.

Phase 3

After learning from Urban Water Series Phases 1 and 2, in 2015, the Foundation committed to help build a movement around “living with water” in the Greater New Orleans region through implementing the following programmatic strategies in partnership with other philanthropic, non-profit, and public sector organizations:

  • Educate the public on New Orleans’ urban water challenges, how green infrastructure and stormwater management can help solve these challenges, and how residents and businesses can be stewards of their own environment and manage stormwater on their own properties.
  •  Support community-based organizations that represent vulnerable neighborhoods and other non-profit organizations in addressing the city’s critical urban water issues in an equitable manner.
  • Help build the capacity of the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans and the City of New Orleans to better implement green infrastructure and stormwater management strategies.

Equity in Action

Equity is at the heart of GNOF’s programmatic work. Given this, it has partnered with and invested in initiatives that helps build climate-resilient and equitable neighborhoods.

GNOF funded the first phase of the development of the Trust for Public Land’s Climate-Smart Cities Tool, a GIS-based decision support tool that allows the prioritization of green infrastructure locations in New Orleans based on environmental, social, and economic parameters. GNOF’s funding also enabled TPL to integrate primary healthcare data, a first for TPL. GNOF’s funding was matched by The Funder’s Network Partners for Places program. Various national funders funded the second phase of tool development. GNOF served on the Technical Advisory team for this tool and helped train various stakeholders on its use.

Now, GNOF, Surdna Foundation, and Kresge Foundation are funding an initiative to build climate-resilient and equitable neighborhoods in New Orleans through partnering with the Waterwise team and various community-based organizations, which educate residents about green infrastructure and stormwater management and help build neighborhood leadership in order to plan and implement green infrastructure initiatives within their neighborhood. Through building neighborhood leadership, one of the expected mid-term outcomes is to help build the neighborhood infrastructure which will allow residents and other community stakeholders such as schools to be actively engaged when mid to large-scale green infrastructure initiatives are being planned by city government or the private sector.

Waterwise’s goal is to broaden this work throughout other vulnerable neighborhoods in New Orleans, neighborhoods which sit below sea level and experience frequent flooding. This initiative was started in Treme in 2016, was launched in the 7th Ward neighborhood in 2017 and will be launched in the 9th Ward neighborhood in 2019.

Urban Water Series Technical Masterclass

In partnership with the City of New Orleans and Surdna Foundation, GNOF has been holding the Urban Water Series Technical Master Classes, the third phase in its educational series. This phase presents technical workshops which aim to deepen the knowhow of the public and private sector professionals in New Orleans who will be designing, developing, installing, and maintaining urban water management systems and green infrastructure in New Orleans.

  • December 7, 2016: Free Public Lecture – Man Made Natures: Urban Living and Climate Change
  • December 8, 2016: Technical Master Class – Manmade Natures: Urban Climate Change Solutions with Danish architect Flemming Rafn Thomsen, Co-founding Partner of Tredje Natur
  • April 26, 2017: Free Public Lecture – Integrating Building and Site Design for Better Stormwater Management
  • April 27, 2017: Technical Master Class – Collaborative Design Techniques for Stormwater Integration with speakers Vince Micha, AIA Senior Project Architect, The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc.; Tom Mortensen, PLA, ASLA, Site Planner and Landscape Architect, R.A. National; and, Paul McIlheran, PE, CPSWQ, Civil Engineer, R.A. Smith National
  • November 7, 2017: Built Right: Constructing Green Infrastructure for Maximum Performance with speakers Barry Fagan, Vice President of Green Infrastructure, Volkert; Anthony Kendrick, Green Infrastructure Specialist, EcoServices; John Tipton, Director of Estimating, Rotolo Consultants Inc.; Byron Pogue, Project Manager, Twin Shores Landscape and Construction Services; and, David Batts, Director, EcoServices
  • January 10, 2018: Free Public Lecture – Streets that Keep You Healthy, Happy, and Safe
  • January 10, 2018: Technical Master Class – Integrating Green Infrastructure Into Complete Streets
  • January 11, 2018: City of New Orleans staff workshop with speakers Peg Staeheli, FASLA, PLA, MIG | SVR; Lolly Kunkler, PE, MIG I SvR
  • May 24, 2018: Free Public Lecture – Living on Thick Water
  • May 24, 2018: Technical Master Class – Living on Think Water: Designing, Planning, and Constructing with Groundwater and Subsidence Management in Mind with speakers Roelof Stuurman, Deltares; Mead Allison, The Water Institute of the Gulf


Since 2015, the Greater New Orleans Foundation has given more than $700,000 in grants from its Environmental Fund in support of building the “living with water” movement in New Orleans. Below are several examples of grants:

  • The Greater New Orleans Foundation has been the primary funder of the the Water Collaborative of Greater New Orleans. It originally funded a full-time director, which significantly increased its organizational capacity and has recently given operating support. The Water Collaborative of the Greater New Orleans is the backbone organization for the water management sector locally.
  • GNOF has funded a number of pilots programs which when scaled can help further build this movement among New Orleans residents. These pilot initiatives include Greenlight New Orleans’ rain barrel which has helped increase the ability of residents to manage their own stormwater and reuse this water for other household needs. This initiative has also allowed households to reduce their water bills and grocery bills.
  • Another pilot program is the Front Yard Initiative (FYI) of the Urban Conservancy, which incentivizes homeowners to remove unwanted paving on their lots and replace it with green infrastructure. Eligible homeowners who apply and are accepted into the program receive a rebate of $2.50 per square foot for up to 500 SF of paving removed.

Header photograph courtesy of The Brix Apartments Blue/Green Roof by Hanging Gardens, LLC.

Want to know more?

To learn more about our environmental work at the Greater New Orleans Foundation, get in touch with James Logan.