Working with Nature to Combat Flooding: Mr. Saunders’s Story
One thing that all New Orleanians have in common is the constant struggle to combat flooding, especially when the rainy season rolls around. But for homeowners residing in low-lying neighborhoods, flooding can be more than just a nuisance. With the city sitting at an average of 1-2 feet below sea level, even a few inches of rain can cause devastating damage to one’s yard and home, particularly for non-elevated homes.
For many, paving flood-prone areas in their yards is costly, unsightly and unsustainable. But as the future of stormwater management continues to develop, homeowners like Gwendolyn and Eddie Saunders are looking to greener methods of water collection; methods that work with nature rather than against it.
Thanks to funding through NORA's Community Adaptation Program (CAP), and the team of local stormwater management businesses, including CAG, LLC and Ubuntu Construction Co, both of which are Launch NOLA Green Alumni, Mr. Saunders transformed his yard from a flood zone to a sustainable and vibrant garden.
The Saunders family lives in Gentilly, a neighborhood that has long dealt with regular flooding. With no stormwater management system in place on their property, the yard and driveway often flooded, making simple tasks such as navigating their property nearly impossible.
Prior to working with the team of Launch NOLA Green Alumni, Mr. Saunders planned to re-pave his driveway at an elevation, to encourage stormwater to run down his driveway, and into the street away from his property. This is a popular solution for a lot of homeowners but causes significant street flooding.
When Mr. Saunders first heard about Green Infrastructure, like many people, he hadn’t heard a lot about it in the past. But, the process of Green Infrastructure is surprisingly intuitive and involves working with the natural
water cycle to safely retain runoff and rainwater through interventions such as planting rain gardens and replacing non-absorbent soil with rocks and soils that retain water, mirroring the falling and rising water cycle of Louisiana’s native marshes.
Over the duration of several weeks, The Ubuntu Construction Co. installation team (supported by CAG LLC) worked to improve Mr. Saunders’ yard in several ways, focusing on the driveway, front walkway and back yard.
The process began with removing the existing concrete driveway and walkway and replacing the non-absorbent clay dirt underneath them with limestone, creating space to store water as deep as 2 feet beneath the surface. Then, both the walkway and driveway were topped with permeable pavers with space between each paver, allowing water to flow through the surface to be stored beneath.
Next, a rain garden and a bald cypress tree were planted in the back yard to collect and retain runoff from the shed roof. Mr. Saunders’ new garden consists of native Louisiana Irises and ferns because of their ability to thrive in moist, marshy soils.
Since incorporating green infrastructure into his yard, Mr. Saunders has noticed a big difference in the amount of flooding in his yard. Areas of his driveway that used to be a pond are no more than a puddle.
“I’ve noticed a difference already, I’m really impressed!”, says Mr. Saunders.
As interest in green infrastructure continues to grow, homeowners are recognizing additional benefits to these measures. In addition to their practicality, rain gardens help beautify neighborhoods, promote environmental sustainability and community awareness as homeowners look for low-impact ways to deal with the effects of extreme weather.
The methods Mr. Saunders used, in particular, can help improve air quality, encourage the growth of a wide range of plant and wildlife, and inspire his fellow community members to embrace more environmentally-friendly options when addressing their own stormwater management problems.
A Greener New Orleans
As the city of New Orleans approaches the rainy season, it’s proving beneficial to explore more sustainable, long-term solutions to flooding by viewing nature as a tool rather than a hindrance.
Empowered by the success of his new green infrastructure system, Mr. Saunders plans on taking the next step in his backyard; adding gutters to his shed to funnel collecting roof-water down into his rain garden.
“It’s serving its purpose. Kinda makes me wanna do some more! I understand the concept now, and with a little effort and a little help I could probably do other parts of the yard”, he says about his transformed yard.
Mr. Saunders’s story shows us that with a little bit of patience, creativity, and collaboration, we can all work together to create a neighborhood landscape that is as beautiful as it is sustainable!