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The Water Institute Of The Gulf Addressing Coastal Restoration Challenges On The Northshore

Water Institute of the Gulf

An email sent recently to hundreds of Northshore inboxes contained a startling attachment. It was a picture of south Louisiana 80 years from now. The land loss projection map showed what could happen if the coastal erosion problem goes unchecked — the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain will be the new Grand Isle.

Dr. Chip Groat, President and CEO of the Water Institute of the Gulf, explains that his organization is dedicated to making sure that doesn’t happen.

“The Water Institute was formed to provide an independent science and engineering applied research function to support the state in its efforts to implement the coastal master plan, and also to support science and engineering in the Gulf Coast and internationally,” Groat says.

Simply put, the institute is responsible for making sure the coastal master plan is based on sound science. Groat knows this is not always an easy task.

“I think our biggest scientific concern is making sure that we’ve looked at all the relevant factors and are able to understand them well enough to use them in models that predict performance and predict impacts of various projects,” he says. “We have to be sure the science is the most current science available, and that’s a big challenge in today’s world. So our greatest concern is that we have the right people and talent to do that, which I’m confident that we do.”

The email with the picture was actually an invitation to a symposium, sponsored by the Northshore Community Foundation. The institute presented the science behind the storm surge and water level issues facing Northshore residents. Groat viewed it as an important exchange of information, questions and ideas with those living in the area.

“It was important to us because it gave us a venue for talking about our capabilities and trying to be very specific in relating them to things that they were interested in. The fact that they had such great citizen participation and good questions from the audience meant that we were actually dealing with things that people were concerned about.”

While the science being done by the institute is important, communication is truly essential to their mission.

“Well, the trick is translating science and engineering information into useful information, not only for the citizens of South Louisiana, but for the people who are making plans that affect the citizens of Louisiana,” Groat says. “So, our really altruistic goal is to communicate effectively, not so much with each other as scientists, but with the people who are affected by decisions and, perhaps more importantly, the people who make the decisions.”

Groat understands very well the ramifications for the Northshore if we ignore the need for coastal restoration projects.

“Well, there is a very frightening map called the Coast Without Projects, which has, in fact, two maps, with two different scenarios of what our coast would look like down the line if we don’t have projects. And it means that the people that live in South Louisiana won’t live there anymore. And the habitats and the economy that’s dependent on those habitats won’t be there anymore. So, that would be the doom-and-gloom scenario. So, back up one more step and say, ‘Well, with a coastal protection program what does it look like,’ and I think that shows real progress in halting the rate of decline, making some gains in some areas, so that’s a more optimistic scenario.”

Amid the challenges of protecting our coastline, the state also sees economic development opportunities. Paul Sawyer, Director of Federal Programs with the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, is one of the people engaging water opportunities on a development level.

“If our coastal loss, if our subsidence, is symptomatic of our direct problems, it’s also symptomatic of sea-level rise, it’s symptomatic of other conditions that other parts of the world are facing,” Sawyer says. “And so, Louisiana is really experiencing probably the largest ecosystem restoration project that the world has ever known."

Sawyer says we’re going to be developing the most sophisticated, most integrated, ecosystem restoration projects that have ever been done in the United States. "And, because it’s being done here, it does become the laboratory for the rest of the world," he says. "And the rest of the world can come to Louisiana and recognize that the problems that we’re solving here, the challenges that we’re addressing here, are the same ones, or are similar to the ones that they’re faced with in other parts of the world.”

Northshore Focus is made possible with support from the Northshore Community Foundation.

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