Institute looks to expand water research

In its first 2½ years of existence, The Water Institute of the Gulf has focused primarily on coastal research in Louisiana, but in the long term, it’s expected that view will expand far beyond the state borders.

Chip Groat, president and chief executive officer of the Water Institute, told the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday that the nonprofit, independent research group has been working with the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority to support planning by improving computer modeling on coastal processes, research on water and sediment flow in the Mississippi River and other river deltas.

“The science we do is applied science for coastal restoration and protection,” Groat said. “This information is to be applied. It’s to help make decisions.”

The institute formed in 2011 with support from the state and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. Groat said that while the state has been working with the institute primarily on issues related to current and future coastal work, including the 2017 master plan being developed, BRAF and U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu were interested in the group having a larger role.

Much like the well-known Deltares research group in the Netherlands, it was envisioned that The Water Institute of the Gulf would expand to include water issues in general, including how to manage water in flood-prone areas.

“They saw us as not only a coastal institute but also as a water institute,” Groat said.

The expertise coordinated by the institute also was seen as a way to make Louisiana’s understanding of living in a delta something that could be exported to other countries. The institute is working with other delta communities around the world, Groat said.

There were initial concerns the institute would go after money for research, coming at the expense of private business and university funding, Groat said. To the contrary, he said 41 percent of the money the institute gets goes out to the partnerships with business and university researchers.

In addition, university partners and the institute collaborated on a proposal to have the institute named as the Center of Excellence under the RESTORE Act, which means it will get a portion of the money assigned through the act as a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Partners announced in December that The Water Institute of the Gulf will get a new home along with the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, private engineering companies, federal agency representatives and even nonprofit coastal organizations.

This new Water Center will be built in downtown Baton Rouge at the old municipal docks south of the Mississippi River bridge and will help bring together resources into a true center of water research, he said.

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