Public Lab Wiki documentation

Flooding and Stormwater Project in New Orleans

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About the Flooding Issue

The issue of flooding goes beyond hurricanes for those who live in the greater New Orleans area. Many people are familiar with the term that “New Orleans is a bowl,” but to understand how or why our geology, topography, climate, and infrastructure is this way, what you really need to know is that New Orleans was built on a swamp and that swamp is sinking, leaving about half of the city below sea level. This means that every bit of water that falls on this city and is not absorbed into the ground needs to be pumped out. Physically Pumped Out. When rain falls, an extensive infrastructure of storm drains, catchment basins and pumps go to work to get that water out of the city. Located in the subtropics, New Orleans experiences strong thunderstorms many times during the year; when water falls faster than the infrastructure can handle, or the system breaks down in an area (or all over), we get flooding.

This is an issue many stakeholders are tied to, as it disrupts commutes, damages property, and causes nuisance flooding. On the grass roots level we have property owners, renters, businesses, commuters, and neighborhood groups. The issue also affects the work of police and emergency medical services, who may be unable to respond quickly to calls due to street flooding. Major local revenue sources, such as the tourism industry are also impacted (how many times we’ve heard it’s flooding at Jazz Fest?). Then on the management side, it’s a city government issue, in which the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board and City of New Orleans Department of Public Works share responsibility for the drainage system.


March - July 2017 We are drafting and running the stormwater workshop series. Drop in to any! We'll be using this wiki to capture data for this project.

February 2017

With support from EPNO and Ripple Effect, Public Lab, partners and friends, will be starting a new workshop series for this project! In this workshop series, we'll focus on a specific location that struggles with flooding and stormwater. We'll work together to develop and implement a strategy for monitoring there.

The workshops series will run once a month beginning in March through July. The series will cover an introduction to flooding, community mapping of the project site, designing a monitoring strategy and working to implement it. Mark your calendars for March 4th, April 8th, May 13th, June 3rd and July 8th!

About the site: The project site can be seen on this map. The site has many interesting challenges around flooding and stormwater, as well as exciting features both newer and proposed, to help address some of the flooding problems! Some areas we can explore in this project include:

  • Groundwork's Earth Lab which includes a bioswale,
  • A green development project along Villere Street with proposed construction beginning in September, and
  • The flooding hotspot on the corner of Spain and St. Claude.

To loop in about the project, join the Gulf Coast Google Group!

The Gulf Coast: plots-gulfcoast

History of this project

This is an ongoing issue and ongoing discussion. In 2014, Water Works, Propeller and Public Lab hosted a water hackathon where we worked with the Public Lab Coqui and discussed water monitoring in New Orleans. Naturally the flooding question came up and the idea of adding depth to one of the important water monitoring parameters was emphasized.

While geographically, many places have worked on low cost water sensing for issues such as detecting salt runoff from roadways in New England, turbidity in waterways in the midwest from Frac Sand Mining in Wisconsin, mining pollution detection in Colombia (**see for more project info), the New Orleans area has continued it’s interest in depth sensing.

In February, 2016, @mimibell sent out a new flood sensing device from It included schematics for building a different type of flood sensor. This started a new string conversation and interest.

In March, several stakeholders got together to discuss the issue, and what type of project or event could move the idea of low cost flood (or depth) sensing forward. Groups involved in this included Water Works, the City of New Orleans, the local maker space IDIYA, Propeller, Public Lab and the New Orleans maker group. While the idea and structure of how to move forward shifted over the course of several months, ultimately a 4 day event was hosted at IDIYA and Propeller with Water Works and Public Lab. Reflections on this event can be found here.

What to explore before we think on tools

In thinking about the flooding/depth sensing issue, there are some major considerations that have come up. While often times we think about a tool in terms of what we want it to do, we’re reframing our question to think about what the underlying issues of flooding are, what advocacy ideas we have in addressing this issue and what a tool would need to be able to do to help us advocate around this issue. Below are some of the questions can helped us prompt our tool exploration:

  • What are our questions around flooding in New Orleans?
  • What ways we could use data to advocate around our concern?
  • What data is most achievable/basic?
  • What data is most important?
  • What other things would we like to know if we could?


  • What sensor could meet this most basic question?
  • What data communications modality is needed in this situation?
  • What power supply is needed to accomplish this?
  • What type of Data Access do we need?
    • Is there a specific format we will need the data in
    • Where will we need to put the sensors to answer this question?

About the Depth Sensor Prototypes: