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Susannah Burley was dealing with an insurance adjuster when I caught up with her to talk about green infrastructure in the aftermath of the most recent unexpected New Orleans flood.

“I live in the Fairgrounds Triangle neighborhood, and we got water inside of our rental property and both cars,” she lamented. “My husband’s car will be OK, but the adjuster wants to total mine.”

I met Burley a couple of years ago when she led the education program at Parkway Partners and I took the “Green Keepers” classes. Burley became so committed to the idea of using rain gardens, retention ponds and appropriate street plantings to reduce flooding that she left Parkway Partners and founded a new nonprofit, SOUL NOLA, in June 2016.

“It’s an acronym for Sustaining Our Urban Landscape, and the idea is to work neighborhood by neighborhood to help residents form a strategic plan to reduce dramatically the amount of stormwater that goes into catch basins and the drainage system,” said Burley, who also holds a master’s degree in landscape architecture from LSU.

“We had a lesson last weekend in the limits of what drainage systems can do … and we know it won’t stop flooding in the future. We need green infrastructure.”

The catastrophic flooding of last weekend appears to be the result of problems with the pumps and an abnormally large volume of rain in a short period of time. Yet Burley said that a robust approach to creating “green infrastructure” citywide might have reduced the flooding by keeping rain water out of the streets.

If the terms “green” and “infrastructure” don’t seem like they belong together, Burley says it’s because the idea is new to most cities.

Before Hurricane Katrina, the goal was to ensure that rainwater reached the drainage system as quickly as possible so it could be pumped to…

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