N.O. Nonprofit Celebrates Kickoff of Citywide ‘Water Justice Fund’ Campaign

NEW ORLEANS – The Water Collaborative will host a press conference and celebration of the launch of the Water Justice Fund from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, May 18 at the Broadside.

“As we have not been able to address our ongoing problem of improved stormwater management capacity, technology, accountability and transparency, the Water Collaborative of greater New Orleans has decided to tackle our city’s most pressing problem before it’s too late,” said a spokesperson for the nonprofit. “Working with partners across the greater New Orleans area and the country, we have developed a new drainage system backed by research and designed with community leaders, the Water Justice Fund.”

The Water Justice Fund seeks to develop a new integrated drainage system that addresses water management, land use, workforce development and capital through an equity-based stormwater fee. Starting June 2023, the Water Collaborative will go into neighborhoods across New Orleans to facilitate an educational campaign to help residents understand our city’s challenges and receive feedback on our policy recommendations. 

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The group hopes that, in the future, drainage will be funded by all citizens and corporate citizens, including nonprofits, state agencies and businesses that aren’t required to pay property taxes. It hopes to create a new governance model that “consolidates and democratizes drainage,” leading to more local oversight and transparency measures for current and future funding. It wants a dedicated fund to support green infrastructure expansion. And it wants to expand blue/green economy jobs and climate technology.

The Water Collaborative plans to send policy recommendations to the New Orleans City Council and the Mayor’s Office by the summer of 2024.

“As a multigenerational local and someone who has fought for communities for over half of my life, it was imperative that this process be rooted in community voice at every level. When we launched this process in late 2021, we knew we had an uphill battle,” said Jessica Dandridge, executive director of the Water Collaborative, in a press release. “We also knew that our current system isn’t good enough. … To fix the problems, you need big solutions. These big solutions require voices from every corner of New Orleans. Water impacts all of our lives, and with the ongoing impacts of climate change, we must act collectively to find solutions.”

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“Water and drainage challenges affect many businesses in New Orleans, and the New Orleans Business Alliance is excited to be part of the team working to find solutions to these challenges,” said Louis David, NOLABA interim CEO. “NOLABA believes when residents, businesses and community organizations come together, we can collectively create pathways to a brighter economic future.”

Rebecca Malpass, director of policy and research at the collaborative, said the group is waiting to see if city leaders make any changes to which groups manage the city’s drainage needs.

At the moment, the Sewerage and Water Board and the city Department of Public Works are responsible for different parts of the system, which is very old and very complicated.

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At a 2022 meeting of the City Council’s public works committee, members voted in favor of a motion to study the potential consolidation and produce a plan by January of 2023.

“Last year, the City Council moved to consolidate all drainage entities,” said Malpass. “We support what the community supports. If drainage operations remain as is, we support funding going to the appropriate entities as needed for gray and green infrastructure projects and improvements. We see this as a multi-agency effort, as it stands, and are very much in favor of transparency and oversight regarding funding and project management for drainage improvement.”

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