Collaboration is key to addressing coastal challenges

By Justin R. Ehrenwerth
President & CEO
The Water Institute of the Gulf

The challenges facing the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem are many and complex. In Louisiana, we face a land loss crisis threatening our economy, culture, and the continued existence of our communities. In coastal Texas, our partners are working hard to conserve land in strategic areas and preserve highly productive coastal ecosystems. Across Florida and throughout coastal Mississippi and Alabama, folks are focused on water quality and quantity issues. At The Water Institute of the Gulf, we seek to bring the best available science and most creative thinking to these challenges and develop real solutions that, when implemented, lead to more sustainable and resilient communities and ecosystems. Doing so requires forging meaningful collaboration across government, academic, nonprofit, and private sector entities. At the end of the day, we know it’s only when people work together – united in confronting shared challenges – that we develop the best solutions to our most pressing problems.

The Water Institute was formed in 2011 with a mission to generate integrated, interdisciplinary approaches to coastal restoration and protection. Over these years, we have sought to bring together and collaborate with the best minds across the Gulf and around the world to do just that. We know that the solutions that we and our partners help to implement in the Gulf will not only aid our people and ecosystems, but will also pioneer techniques that can be applied to coastal challenges around the world.

The Institute’s ability to achieve this critical mission was dramatically enhanced last month. On July 10, we were honored to stand with Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards in announcing a new partnership between the Institute and Deltares, an internationally renowned coastal and deltaic applied research institute based in the Netherlands. This game-changing agreement creates a powerful collaboration that will provide integrated, cutting-edge solutions to coastal and water challenges around the world. In the agreement, we identified areas where our scientists and engineers will work more closely together including integrated strategic water resources planning, coastal dynamics, nature-based solutions to coastal challenges, optimizing the management of watersheds, improved predictive tools and training for modeling across many water issues, and real-time monitoring of levees and control structures.

I’d like to highlight one of these areas as it holds such great promise for the Gulf – nature-based solutions to coastal challenges. Working with the Greater Lafourche Port Commission, the Institute has established a Public Private Partnership (P3) to determine how to best use dredge material to protect critical infrastructure around the port; generate ecosystem service benefits; and make communities in the greater Fourchon area more resilient to storms and rising sea levels. Our partners in this important work include Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Edison Chouest Offshore, and Danos. Should the port move forward with dredging to 50 feet, this will yield more than 20 million cubic yards of material to work with – a remarkable amount of sediment to rebuild degraded coastal features in our sediment-starved system.

By combining the resources and expertise of public, private, and non-governmental organizations, the goal of this P3 is to find the best way to use the dredge material to not only enhance coastal habitat, but to also provide protection to critical infrastructure and communities. The use of nature-based protection features such as wetlands and ridges represents an approach that can serve as a model across the Gulf and around the country with respect to collaborative planning and shared funding.

Erosion, subsidence, storm flooding, sea level rise, and the associated increase in vulnerability that people face along the coast are real challenges. Our collective goal is to establish scientifically sound methodologies to create sustainable communities – resilient to environmental change and adaptable when natural stressors cannot be overcome. As we all move forward into this new world, The Water Institute team looks forward to collaborating with all of you to ensure that we meet the pressing challenges of today and tomorrow.