A decade after Hurricane Katrina devastated southern Louisiana, a nonprofit New Orleans startup accelerator called Propeller is part of a push to change how the region approaches the water that surrounds and defines it.
Founded to channel a post-Katrina burst of entrepreneurial energy in the city, Propeller helps companies that work on economically sustainable approaches to social and environmental issues. Late last month, the organization was awarded a $300,000 grant from the federal Economic Development Administration to support its work with organizations dealing with water issues, from urban drainage to coastal erosion.
One of the critical aspects of the program is bridging a traditional divide between groups working in the city and those working to preserve the area’s coastal wetlands, says Propeller Programs Coordinator Ginny Hanusik. "The problems we’re facing now are because there has been such a separation of the two areas throughout history," she says.
The flood-prone Crescent City’s approach has traditionally been to wall off neighboring Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River, while building sophisticated drainage systems to rush rainwater away from the city and its suburbs. But drying out the urban area has paradoxically pulled much of the city further below sea level as the soil it’s built on settles and shrinks. That’s made storm-related flooding that much worse and weakened buildings on the sinking ground.
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