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Water Institute’s Research Helping Coastal Communities Increase Resiliency

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 those issues with solid applied research is the core mission of The Water Institute of the Gulf, based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Founded in 2012, the Institute’s early research focused on Louisiana’s major coastal restoration master plan, an innovative set of projects to curb wetlands loss and ensure a sustainable coast. Now, the not-for-profit Institute advises coastal and deltaic communities worldwide through research and technical assistance. President and CEO Justin Ehrenwerth says the Institute’s ongoing research is benefitting not only Louisiana, but providing best practices globally.

“We have learned so much from our work with Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan, which includes a multibillion-dollar sediment diversion program,” 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, along the Rio de la Plata south of Buenos Aires, about how to improve local flood control systems and how to prepare for development. The team examined infrastructure and social issues, including the city’s lack of affordable housing and recurrent flooding and pollution in poorer neighborhoods.

The Water Institute is creating strategies for other cities that face rainwater and sea rise challenges, including Houston and Charleston, South Carolina. In Houston, the Institute helped develop Living with Water Houston, a plan addressing flood impacts on housing, growth, development and infrastructure. And in Charleston, the Institute joined the Dutch Dialogues Charleston team, which explored how to make the historic city more resilient to increasingly common floods.

The Institute remains engaged in innovative projects that benefit the Louisiana coast, one of America’s most important energy markets. 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 Partnership for Our Working Coast. The project will capture millions of cubic yards of dredged material and use them as sediment, an extremely valuable resource in rebuilding the coastline.

The Institute will provide strategic direction on where best to use the sediment in protecting infrastructure, ecosystems and communities. The grant funds will be matched by private funding from ChevronShellDanos and the Greater Lafourche Port Commission.

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