Orleans Canal

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This article is about a canal in New Orleans, La.. For the canal in France, see Canal d'Orléans .
North end of the Orleans Avenue Canal, 2010

The Orleans Canal is a drainage canal in New Orleans, Louisiana. The canal, along with the 17th Street Canal and the London Avenue Canal, form the New Orleans Outfall Canals. The current version of the canal is about 2 km long, running along the up-river side of City Park, through the Lakeview and Lakeshore neighborhood, and into Lake Pontchartrain. It is part of the system used to pump rain water out of the streets of the city into the Lake. The Canal has also been known as the Orleans Avenue Canal, the Orleans Outfall Canal, the Orleans Tail Race, and early on, the Girod Canal,


The earliest version of the Orleans Canal did not include any of the current route. It was a drainage ditch dug alongside of Orleans Avenue in the 1830s, running from the Tremé neighborhood into Bayou St. John. It was part of a city drainage plan by state engineer George T. Dunbar. The "Bienville Drainage Machine" was constructed, basically a large paddle-wheel powered by a steam engine, at the corner of Hagen and Bienville Streets, which pushed the current of the Orleans Canal out towards the lake, perhaps the first of what would become many mechanical pumps for removing water from city streets. Dunbar's plans included many other improvements to the city's drainage, but the Panic of 1837 largely halted further implementation plans for decades.

The canal was expanded during the developments and civic improvements in New Orleans in the 1870s. In 1871 drainage improvements rerouted and extended the canal, changing its terminus from the Bayou to the lake. The Canal Street, City Park, and Lake Railroad Company was formed in 1873, and the line was complete and running by 1877. The railway ran from the developed part of the city which still hugged the Mississippi River, with a stop at City Park (which at the time extended only 1 block back from Metairie Road—modern City Park Avenue), then taking a bend at the Lakefront to terminate at Spanish Fort Amusement Park. Much of its route ran alongside the straight line of the canal, which was dug deeper, providing fill for the railway right-of-way through the low swampy area running from Metairie Ridge to the lake. While some 19th-century city maps show a grid of streets in this area, in reality these streets were not extended into this area, and it remained a swamp with little development until the mid-20th century. At the time, the main intention of the canal was to remove water from the developed area on the lake side of the machine, not from the swampy ground along closer to the lake along most of the canal's length.

The first decade of the 20th century saw further improvements. A second pumping station was added closer to the lake at Florida Boulevard (near the current I-610). In 1906 the steam locomotive running along the line was replaced with electric streetcars. The early 20th century a greatly improved drainaged pumping system designed by A. Baldwin Wood was installed.

Starting in the late 1920s, the Lake Pontchartrain shore line was extended and lake side levees constructed. The portion of the canal on the river side of Metairie Ridge was enclosed to become sub-street drainage. The levees along the canal further back were raised, as the former swamp was developed after World War II, the area on the downriver side becoming an extension of City Park and on the upriver side the Lakeview residential neighborhood. The level of the water in the canal in this section was and is often higher than the surrounding streets.

A system of improved floodwalls topped the canal levees as part of hurricane protection projects following Hurricane Betsy in 1965.

During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Orleans Canal levees and floodwalls held. This was in contrast to the 17th Street Canal up from it and the London Avenue Canal below it, both of which experienced catestrophic failures. All three canals were supposedly engineered to the same specifications before the hurricane, and all presumably experienced very similar conditions from the storm. However, post-Katrina forensic engineering reports by the Corps of Engineers, Louisiana State University, and the Independent Levee Investigation Team (ILIT, based at UC Berkeley) found that the Orleans Canal did not fail because a section of its floodwalls at City Park were unfinished and much lower than along the rest of the canal; thus the surge waters were able to flow out into the city through this low spot, relieving the pressure along the rest of the canal.

Greater New Orleans


After Katrina it was decided that new pumping stations and permanent closures would be built on all three of the New Orleans Outfall canals. Designs have to take into account the event of a 100 year storm that has a 1% chance of happening every year.[1]


See also[edit]

Coordinates: 30°00′37″N 90°05′58″W / 30.01028°N 90.09944°W / 30.01028; -90.09944