By Elisa Speranza and Nathan Lott
Living at the juncture of the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico comes with specific needs. On Dec. 10, voters in Orleans and Jefferson parishes will be asked to renew existing millages that fund the operations and maintenance of drainage infrastructure. At 4.46 mills in Orleans and 6 mills in Jefferson, these equate to approximately $56 annually in Orleans and $75 in Jefferson for a primary residence assessed at $200,000. Informed voters will vote YES to continue these critical investments in safety and quality of life.
The rationale for funding drainage operations and maintenance through local property tax is straightforward: The value of your home is dependent on effective flood prevention, of which local drainage is a necessary component.
Much of the metro area is ringed by levees, which protect us from river flooding and storm surge. Rain that falls within the resulting “bowl” must exit in one of three ways: absorption into the soil, evaporation into the air, or pumping through a complex network of pipes and canals.
Readers may be aware of the “Living with Water” philosophy detailed in the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan. Architects, engineers and planning professionals throughout the region now agree that the safest, most cost-effective way to manage rainfall within the levees is to make greater use of green infrastructure. Green infrastructure can increase the amount of water absorbed and, to a lesser extent, evaporated, thereby relieving pressure on pipes, canals and pumps.
However, it is important to recognize that the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan calls for an integrated gray-green approach. We strongly support expanding the use of green infrastructure, but the extreme August rains that caused flooding in and around Baton Rouge serve as a stark reminder why we need a robust drainage system to protect lives and property.
Green or gray, drainage systems require local operations and maintenance funding. While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has spent billions on new culverts uptown and new pumps at the lakefront, it is employees of Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans and Jefferson Parish who repair pipes and operate pumping stations. FEMA and HUD have helped finance green infrastructure investments in Gentilly and elsewhere, but it will be locals who monitor and maintain the new rain gardens and porous pavement.
Local investments translate into local jobs. The Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans employees 300 of our neighbors to keep pumps and canals functioning as intended. Jefferson Parish has more than 280 employees doing similar work.
Ninety-seven percent of property owners in New Orleans saw their flood insurance rates reduced in 2016, at an average of $471 per policy. Those savings reflect FEMA’s confidence in the region’s drainage systems and the people who keep them running. Voters can show their confidence with a yes vote on Dec. 10.
New Orleans resident Elisa M. Speranza is a Senior Fellow with the U.S. Water Alliance. Nathan Lott is coordinator of the nonprofit Greater New Orleans Water Collaborative.