Coastal Desk Visits Austin To Learn From Their Water Management Strategy

Sep 12, 2014

This week our coastal team is visiting the city of Austin, Texas with a group of New Orleans city officials, including City Council members Susan Guidry and LaToya Cantrell, and representatives from the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority and the Sewerage and Water Board.

The goal is to learn about how Austin manages its water system, and see if there’s some takeaways as the city of New Orleans tries to create a new water strategy that integrates old and new design.

A sign in a bathroom at Mueller, the new sustainable, transit-oriented community in Austin, Texas.
Credit Jesse Hardman / WWNO

On Thursday, September 11, the group visited the offices of Austin's Watershed protection department to meet with the staff and discuss the city's history in green stormwater infrastructure and current implementation in the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan.

A bus tour followed to see some examples of green infrastructure throughout the city, like rain gardens, detention and retention ponds, and porous pavement in big box store parking lots. 

The New Orleans civic leaders are inspired by all that has already been built in Austin. City Council member LaToya Cantrell is impressed by the desire on behalf of Austin's citizens and officials to act.

"The leaders recognized early on, owned it, and said we’re going to do something to protect it, because we want to live here," she said. "So if we want to continue to live in the city of New Orleans, and make it a safe environment for people, we have to get serious."

On the first day of the trip the group visited multiple green infrastructure sites to see some of this system in action. Now, New Orleans officials want to spend the rest of their trip learning how Austin got to this point — how did they find the funding and support to move in this direction?

So far, the most important takeaway of this trip is that bringing back nature into an urban environment is a good thing: it slows down water when it hits and allows for some of it to seep back into the ground, instead of lots of water heading straight for the drainage system. Austin has also shown that it helps when the city and the citizens are on the same team.

Follow Laine and Jesse on Twitter at @JesseAHardman and @lainekaplev using the hashtag #coastaldesk.

Support for coastal reporting on WWNO comes from the Walton Family Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, and the Kabacoff Family Foundation.