Hurricane Katrina lasted only eight days and ended nearly 15 years ago, yet the residents of New Orleans are given daily reminders of the presence it wrought in their city after levees constructed by the Federal government failed to redirect excess stormwater. With 80% of the city destroyed, reflecting a citywide property damage price tag of over $125 billion, the broken levees came to signify the largest engineering failure in modern history that left many residents to decide between building off of what had been affected or starting anew. The city’s local nuns have been shepherding a former Catholic convent weakened by the man-made disaster and are working with the city of New Orleans to transform the site into Mirabeau Water Garden, a 25-acre wetland that will one of the largest in the United States when complete.
Led by Mary Kincaid, sustainable infrastructure program manager at the City of New Orleans project delivery unit, and designed by local firm Waggonner & Ball Architects, the project was originally conceived of by the Sisters of St. Joseph, a group of nuns that once occupied the convent before the building damage became too great to ignore. Their choices, as they have debated them since 2005, were to rebuild the convent or work with the city towards determining a better function for the site.
The wetlands will have the capacity to absorb roughly 10 million gallons of stormwater runoff to combat the flash floods that have become common in the city within the last 20 years. Though that water will eventually reach the city’s outdated drainage system, the wetland will act as a much-needed filter and partial barrier to prevent sewage overflows. As the most substantial wetland effort taken on by New Orleans in its centuries-long history, the Mirabeau Water Garden will be a signature element of Resilient New Orleans, a city-wide initiative to enact solutions to climate change and other issues facing future generations, and is being developed in accordance with the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, a set of guidelines developed by the State of Louisiana’s Office of Community Development – Disaster Recovery Unit in 2010.
The project is estimated to cost $30 million and city officials have already begun soliciting construction bids. The city is hoping to have construction begin in the spring of this year, though no completion date has been set.