Eleven years after Hurricane Katrina made landfall (and the federal levees around New Orleans failed), much of south and southeast Louisiana is just beginning to recover from flooding resulting from a seven-trillion gallon deluge, and a tropical depression is forming in the Gulf of Mexico.
Louisiana has a one-sided, yet complex relationship with water. We have plenty of it. We use it wantonly. And we suffer greatly when it goes where we don’t want it to go — into our homes and communities.
While we are all familiar with those aspects of our relationship with water, Steve Picou and Grasshopper Mendoza believe that there is an aspect of water that we are ignoring — its role as a driver of new economic activity and opportunity in Louisiana.
Together they’ve been leading local conversations about water in the New Orleans area for about eight years. Around that time, architect David Waggoner was urging anyone who would listen that the city needed to re-think its relationship with water. One result was the creation (through the help of Senator Mary Landrieu) of the Dutch Dialogues. The dialogues were the kind of international, cross-cultural, conversations that began to shift thinking in post-Katrina New Orleans. Earlier this year, New Orleans received a $141 million federal grant that will allow the city to implement the first part of the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan which calls for a change in strategy in dealing with storm water in the city.
The support for the water conversations in New Orleans came primarily through private philanthropy. The question now in south Louisiana is whether, in the wake of the Great August 2016 Flood, there will be support for a similar kind of high level approach to rethinking our relationship with water.
Picou and Mendoza have taken their story about the benefits of the water economy on the road (these meetings were planned before the flood) under the banner of the Louisiana Water Economy Network.
The Vietnamese symbol for crisis is translated as “there is opportunity of being in danger.” Confronted with a disappearing coast, rising seas, sinking land, more frequent and more severe storms — all linked in varying degrees to climate change — Louisiana confronts a long crisis.
There is opportunity in this crisis, Picou and Mendoza argue. The question is whether we can adapt quickly enough to seize it. As Steve says in the podcast, “water is everybody’s business.”
It’s a great conversation.
In the non-broadcast segment of the podcast (starting at about the 42 minute mark), we talk about how they found themselves being water opportunity evangelists.