Advancing how we live with water

By Justin R. Ehrenwerth
The Water Institute of the Gulf

Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike, and Isaac. Throw in the largest oil spill in American history in 2010, the 2016 floods, and increasingly intense rainfall events, and it’s clear that Louisiana is no stranger to catastrophes. Yet each and every time one of these events strikes, our communities come together to recover and rebuild.

The formation of the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita highlighted a change in the way people viewed the close link between coastal restoration and hurricane protection. No longer would the responsibilities be housed in separate agencies, but instead would be combined to form a more systems-based approach. Each hurricane that hit our shores demonstrated a new challenge whether it was the dangers of having a vulnerable levee system protecting New Orleans or the reality that rainfall from a slow-moving storm could bring the devastation farther inland.

Resilience planning is not new to the state either. The “Louisiana Speaks” program was the result of the Louisiana Recovery Authority and the Center for Planning Excellence working together to do long-term community-driven planning across South Louisiana. It focused on recovery, but also around smart, sustainable growth and thinking more regionally – concepts that are still a focus of community discussions today.

Our lessons have been learned through necessity. For many, those lessons continue as Houston was left reeling from Hurricane Harvey and New Orleans works to find better ways to live with water within the levee system – beyond relying on pumping rainfall to Lake Pontchartrain.

This process of learning to adapt to changing conditions, so organic in parts of Louisiana, can ultimately lead to stronger, more resilient communities.

In December, the Institute had the great fortune to announce that New Orleans’ Deputy Mayor & Chief Resilience Officer, Jeff Hebert, would be joining us as the Vice President for Adaptation and Resilience. Jeff’s expertise garnered from his work at the Louisiana Recovery Authority and with the City of New Orleans, including participation as part of the 100 Resilient Cities program through the Rockefeller Foundation, will help tie together work the Institute is already doing to help decision makers bring the best science to their adaptation planning.

There is a lot of good resilience work that has been done and continues to be done, whether it’s through the LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio, CPEX, or through engineering and planning firms. The Institute, with the great help of Jeff, plans to support, augment, and enhance these efforts towards the ultimate goal we all share – creating more sustainable communities best prepared to adapt and thrive in an uncertain future.