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Entrepreneurs explore new means to manage N.O. water issues

25th March 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Philip Stelly
Contributing Writer

Is water our enemy or our friend?

For much of our recent history, water has been viewed as the enemy, something to be tamed and redirected away from people. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the man-made flooding in between the two hurricanes is changing that mindset. Rather than capturing water and pumping it out of the city, those in the forefront of water management are finding ways to embrace it.

Indeed recent projects by the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans—some in conjunction with surrounding parishes—is indicative of this new mindset. Marcia St. Martin, executive director of the Sewerage & Water Board, discussed several such projects at last week’s Water Challenge 2013, a meeting of water experts that coincided with New Orleans Entrepreneur’s Week at Gallier Hall.

One such innovative project is the Wetlands Assimilation Project, which is a joint venture with St. Bernard Parish to take treated wastewater from the S&WB and St. Bernard treatment facilities and move it into the Bayou Bienvenue wetlands that will form the basis for a wetlands mitigation bank. Companies needing to offset carbon emissions can purchase carbon credits from the mitigation bank.

“The Wetlands Assimilation Project will reduce operating cost in treating 100 million gallons of waste water per day,” St. Martin said. In addition, the project is spinning out innovative designs that will reduce the amount of pharmaceutical and cosmetics products that end up in wastewater. “This is a science-based solution to reduce personal care products and pharmaceuticals in the wastewater,” she said.

Dr. Sarah Mack, a water consultant and last year’s winner of the Water Challenge, says the carbon credits will allow local authorities to forecast which projects can be funded strictly with carbon credits and which ones will require a partnership with the state.

A no less important, but more traditional approach to water management is the Southeast Louisiana Drainage program which aims to reduce flooding with the addition of new pumping stations and better drainage canals. Drainage canal projects are underway on the South Claiborne Avenue canal and the second phase of the Napoleon Avenue canal.

By June, the S&WB expects to complete construction of the $19 million pumping station at Dwyer and Jordan roads along with new underground intake and outflow canals.

Typically, the thrust of most water management projects has been about pumps and concrete, but water experts say the views of water consumers are changing. Most canals in New Orleans are hidden from view, but new developments in eastern New Orleans now market open canals as a desirable feature that enhances land values.

Whether traditional or non-traditional water can serve as a basis for tapping the entrepreneurial spirit, St. Martin told the audience of mostly entrepreneurs: “The challenge is how do you take innovation (around water) and how do you market it.”

The panel discussion preceded final presentations for the Great Water Challenge 2013. Webster Pierce of Cutoff, La. won the $50,000 seed money prize for developing a device called the Wave Robber that could play a critical role in restoring Louisiana’s vanishing coastline. Wave Robber is a wedge-shaped structure that has risers and landings similar to steps to a porch. The device breaks up waves striking the coast and collects sediment through a series of holes.

Pierce is one of 29 entrepreneurs who submitted proposals for the third annual water challenge. “Webster is indicative of an untapped reservoir of innovation in Louisiana and this program taps into that innovation and helps take it to the next level,” said Steve Picou, an organizer of the water challenge.

This article originally published in the March 25, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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