Across the globe, coastal communities are grappling with the same question: how to grow and develop while also guarding against rising seas and unpredictable weather events. Addressing such issues with solid interdisciplinary research is the core mission of the Water Institute of the Gulf, an independent nonprofit applied research institution based in Baton Rouge.
Founded in 2012, the Institute’s initial research was focused on Louisiana’s major coastal restoration master plan, an innovative set of strategies to help curb wetlands loss and ensure a sustainable coast. Now the Institute has grown to also become an advisor and research partner to other coastal and deltaic communities worldwide. President and CEO Justin Ehrenwerth says the Institute has created a body of ongoing research and best practices that can benefit not just Louisiana, but other coastal communities around the world.
“We have learned so much from our work with Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan, which includes a successful multi-billion project sediment diversion program now underway,” says Ehrenwerth. “Now, we’re taking the knowledge we’ve accrued and are exporting it to other places. The ongoing research opportunities are robust, and our role is to create a dynamic exchange of ideas.”
For example, the Institute recently partnered with the Tulane University School of Architecture on a project in the large coastal city of Quilmes, Argentina. With help from a $75,000 grant from the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, researchers from the Institute and Tulane teamed up to advise the flood-prone city, located on the Rio de la Plata south of Buenos Aires, on how to improve local flood control systems and how to get ahead of forthcoming development. Not only did the team examine infrastructure issues, but also social issues, including the city’s lack of affordable housing and recurrent flooding and pollution in poorer neighborhoods.
The Institute has also been hired to create strategies for other cities that face major issues from rainwater and sea rise, including Houston and Charleston. In Houston, the Institute recently served as a strategic partner in the creation of a plan called Living with Water Houston, which is helping the city better address how frequent flooding impacts housing, growth, development and infrastructure. And in Charleston, the Institute was part of the Dutch Dialogues Charleston team, which explored how to make this historic city more resilient to increasingly common flood events.
The Institute remains engaged in innovative projects that benefit the Louisiana coast, one of America’s most important energy production sites. The Partnership for our Working Coast project is a good example of the Institute’s involvement in working with industry partners on “nature-based solutions,” says Ehrenwerth. In November 2019, the Institute received a $500,000 grant from the National Coastal Resilience Fund for the Partnership for our Working Coast project, which will capture millions of cubic yards of dredged material and use them as sediment, an extremely valuable resource National Coastal Resilience Fund | NFWF in rebuilding the coastline. The Institute will provide strategic direction on where to best use the sediment for future infrastructure protection, ecosystem habitat and other community benefits. The grant funds will be leveraged with private funding from Chevron, Shell, Danos and the Greater Lafourche Port Commission.
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