Project: Living with Water
Location: New Orleans, LA
Firm: Waggonner & Ball (lead)
Year: 2008-2010; 2011-2013
Project Website:

Project Description: Living in the Mississippi River Delta requires constant awareness of the forces of water, with multiple lines of defense to protect against high water in the Mississippi River, hurricanes approaching from the Gulf of Mexico, and intense rainfall inherent to the sub-tropical climate. The federal levees and floodwalls at the city’s perimeter protect human settlement from high river waters and hurricane storm surges. Within the levees, complex systems of canals, pipes, and pumps protect against flooding caused by rainfall. However, these systems are inadequate to the challenges posed by a changing urban landscape and climate and are the primary cause of subsidence in the region. With these concerns in mind in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Waggonner & Ball saw an opportunity for New Orleans to reinvent itself as a safe, resilient, economically vibrant city that embraces its life-blood: water. This water management concept, Living With Water, is paradigm shift from a drain-pipe-pump mentality toward a system that values water as an asset. Explored through the Dutch Dialogues workshops and developed in the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, the first large-scale Living With Water projects will soon be implemented through the City’s winning National Disaster Resilience Competition entry for the Gentilly Resilience District.

Initiated in 2006 and facilitated by the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Washington DC, Waggonner & Ball reached out to a multi-disciplinary array of Dutch and American organizations to examine methods for improving the design of urban water in the greater New Orleans area. Cosponsored with the Dutch Embassy and the American Planning Association, the three Dutch Dialogues workshops engendered a knowledge exchange between Dutch and American planners and urban designers, architects and engineers, and soils and hydrology experts as well as agencies and universities. This process not only explored the potential to transform land use by focusing first on water, but also established an international network of water management experts whose involvement continues beyond the workshops and Louisiana.

Development of principles established in the Dutch Dialogues continued when, in 2011-2013, the State of Louisiana’s Office of Community Development funded the development of the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan. This science and design-based process for creating a resilient and sustainable New Orleans region generated an unprecedented exchange among industry, government, economic development, and non-profit leaders. The plan focuses on water within the existing levee system – primarily stormwater, surface waters, and groundwater – offering a new vision for managing these resources while also addressing pluvial flooding, subsidence, and the misuse of regional water resources. It outlines principles for water management, regional planning, and urban design that are specific to place and developed out of a process that considers local soils, water and biodiversity; existing infrastructure networks; and the city’s distinct urban fabric.

The Urban Water Plan proposes a new investment model for public works wherein spending on streets, canals, pump stations, and stormwater detention basins enhances public spaces and yields opportunities for economic growth and development. Proposed retrofits strengthen existing water systems, make use of undervalued water assets, enhance key corridors, and broaden the hurricane protection concept of “multiple lines of defense” to incorporate urban water management. The five core principles of Living With Water are:

  1. Slowing and storing stormwater
  2. Circulating and recharging surface waters and groundwater
  3. Building with nature
  4. Designing for adaptation
  5. Working together

The plan is a living document created to guide long-range planning and investments for the next fifty years. Because water knows no boundaries, the plan calls for implementation at a range of scales and across political lines. The Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan is publically available for download at


Project Credits

DD1 Workshop Directors: Waggonner & Ball, Royal Netherlands Embassy, American Planning Association

DD1 Workshop Participants: (Dutch) Arcadis; Royal Haskoning DHV; City of Rotterdam; Netherlands Ministry of Environment, Spatial Planning and Housing; Netherlands Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment; Netherlands Ministry for Transport, Public Work and Water Management; Rijnland Water Board; Delft University of Technology

(American) America’s Wetland Foundation; Center for Planning Excellence; CH2M; Conciously Rebuilding; CRCL; Fertel Foundation; Flood Protection Alliance; Laborde Marine; Port of New Orleans; SELA Flood Protection Authority; Wayne Troyer Architects; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; State of Louisiana, Senator Landrieu’s Office; Louisiana Department of Transportation & Development; Louisiana Economic Development; Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority; Louisiana Recovery Administration; Jefferson Parish; Plaquemines Parish; St. Bernard Parish; New Orleans Office of Recovery and Development Administration; New Orleans Regional Planning Commission; New Orleans City Planning Commission; New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board; Louisiana State University; Tulane University; Washington University in St. Louis

DD2 Workshop Directors: Waggonner & Ball, Royal Netherlands Embassy, American Planning Association

DD2 Workshop Participants: (Dutch) Arcadis; Bosch Slabbers; Deltares; DHV; ds+V; ; Robbert de Koning Landscape Architects; City of Amsterdam; City of Rotterdam; Netherlands Ministry for Transport, Public Work and Water Management; Netherlands Ministry of Environment, Spatial Planning and Housing; NIROV; Province of South Holland; Delft University of Technology; University of Wageningen

(American) Audubon Engineers; Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions; DMJM/Harris; Goody Clancy; Manning Architects; Schrenk & Peterson; Spackman Mossop and Michaels; Villavaso & Associates; Wallace Roberts Todd; Greater New Orleans Community Data Center; City of Fort Worth; Louisiana State University; University of New Orleans; Tulane University; University of Virginia; Washington University in St. Louis

DD3 Workshop Directors: Waggonner & Ball; Royal Netherlands Embassy; American Planning Association; Netherlands Water Partnership; United States Environmental Protection Agency; Tulane University

DD3 Workshop Participants: (Dutch) Arcadis; Bosch Slabbers; Deltares; H+N+S Landscape Architects; Palmbout Urban Landscapes; Royal Haskoning; City of Amsterdam; City of Rotterdam; Delft University of Technology; Wageningen University

(American / Canadian) AECOM; Avegno Bailey & Associates, Inc.; Cashio Cochran LLC; CDM Smith; Brown+Danos Landdesign, Inc.; Gil Kelley & Associates; Manning Architects; Shrenck & Peterson; Stull & Lee, Inc.; SWA Group; Tierra Resources; Urban Progress Design; Waldemar S. Nelson & Company, Inc.; Friends of Lafitte Corridor; New Orleans City Park; City of New Orleans; New Orleans Department of Public Works; New Orleans Redevelopment Authority; New Orleans Regional Planning Commission; Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Louisiana State University; University of Toronto; University of Virginia; Washington University in St. Louis; Yale University


Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan

Design Team:
Waggonner & Ball, Project Lead, Coordination
Arcadis US; Engineering, System Cost Engineering
Bosch Slabbers Landscape + Urban Design; Landscape Architecture, Project Design
CDM Smith; Hydraulic Modeling, Outreach
City of Rotterdam; Water System Operations
Dana Brown & Associates; Landscape Architecture, Outreach
Deltares; Geohydrology, Implementation
FutureProof; Sustainability, Implementation
H+N+S Landscape Architects; Landscape Architecture, Urban Design
Manning Architects; Urban Design, Outreach
Palmbout Urban Landscapes; Landscape Urbanism
Robbert de Koning Landscape Architect; Landscape Architecture, Project Design
Royal Haskoning; Hydrology, Water System Analysis
Tulane University; Jurisdictional Context, Implementation
Washington University in St. Louis; Project Design

Senior Advisors:
Dale Morris, Royal Netherlands Embassy
Paul Farmer, American Planning Association
Piet Dircke, Arcadis NL

Kristina Hill, University of California Berkley
Bry Sarté, Sherwood Design Engineers
Jane Wolff, University of Toronto
Han Meyer, Delft University of Technology
Ton Schaap, City of Amsterdam
Steven Slabbers, Bosch Slabbers Landscape + Urban Design
Lodewijk van Nieuwenhuijze, H+N+S Landscape Architects
John Klingman; Tulane University

Resource Team:
Bright Moments; Outreach
Dewberry; NFIP Consulting, Risk Assessment
Eustis Engineering; Geotechnical and Hydrogeological Data
GCR; Economic Benefit Analysis
LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio; Visualization Tools
Waldemar S. Nelson and Company, Inc.; Project Cost Estimating