There’s a major scientific initiative evolving in Baton Rouge, La., that is expected to have a positive impact around the globe.
It’s the relatively new Water Institute of the Gulf, appropriately located in this city bounded on its western edge by the majestic Mississippi River as it wends its way southward to meet the Gulf of Mexico.
The Institute is self-described as a “not-for-profit independent research institute dedicated to advancing the understanding of coastal and deltaic systems and to applying scientific and technological solutions for the benefit of society.”
The effort will entail collaboration with public, private and academic partners to protect and preserve the U.S. Gulf Coast region. The goal is to develop and share technology that can enhance water management efforts worldwide.
The founding partners are:
- State of Louisiana – the Office of Gov. Bobby Jindal, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and Louisiana Economic Development.
Baton Rouge Area Foundation.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.
Such a major undertaking requires skilled leadership.
Enter AAPG member Charles “Chip” Groat, president and CEO of the Institute.
The globally recognized scientist came on board with a long list of illustrious professional accomplishments, including serving nearly seven years as director of the U.S. Geological Survey. He is a renowned expert on earth sciences, energy, resource assessment, ground water issues and coastal studies.
Groat also is no stranger to Baton Rouge, where he spent a number of years in the position of Louisiana state geologist and director of the Louisiana Geological Survey.
“This is all like coming home in a way,” he said. “I did a lot of coastal, land loss and river work in my LGS days and then when I came back to LSU.”
A Working Coast
The Louisiana coast is a kind of ground zero when it comes to land loss and related destruction caused by hurricanes and other forces, both natural and manmade.
It also provides a vast habitat for fish and wildlife, which means environmental issues like those created by the Deepwater Horizon spill are an ongoing concern.
Some of the land loss rates are of a crisis nature, especially when it comes to communities, the petroleum industry and others. Entire towns can be severely impacted, often with little warning, by major hurricane windfall and subsequent flooding.
This region is known as a “working coast,” and much of the work is related to the energy industry, which has a huge investment here. The area is home to myriad pipelines, refineries, chemical plants, ports and more.
It’s a major jumping-off place for supplies, equipment and other necessities for the offshore oil and gas industry.
“The industry cares as much as anybody else about whether the coast is disappearing and if it’s going to get beat up by hurricanes, flooding,” Groat noted. “We could be a help to them by producing products of particular interest to them.”
Another issue to be addressed is the petroleum industry’s need for water.
“There are huge developments going on in Lake Charles that have to do with LNG terminals and processing,” Groat said. “One of the questions being asked is what are the water demands, the availability for that downstream part of the oil and gas industry.”
There’s seemingly no lack of problems just waiting to be tackled.
Fortunately, there are numerous experts available to apply their skill sets.
“The state saw the Water Institute as a way of getting the universities involved,” Groat said. “From the beginning, we’ve said we’re going to depend on LSU, UNO (University of New Orleans), Tulane and others to provide expertise.
“We’re not going to staff up to do it all ourselves,” he said, “but to do it with partnerships.”
Groat emphasized that “40 percent of the money we get goes right back out the door to universities, consulting firms. We’re not a barrier to work but a facilitator.
“We started in February 2012, and we now have 44 on staff,” he added. “The opportunity to do work has been as great as we envisioned it to be.
“Our major program emphasis is on modeling natural systems and the things that affect them – modeling is our largest program,” he stated. “Much of what we model or simulate relates to how the coastal systems and projects will respond to change.
“The expertise we build here could reach out and create big opportunities globally for Louisiana-based expertise, whether it be us, universities or the private sector,” he noted. “Land reconstruction, refurbishment, refreshment, re-establishment in coastal areas worldwide is the target.”
The Institute already is at work establishing international connections, and it is currently engaged in a project in the Mekong Delta.
In November, the Institute broke ground on a 1.5 million-square-foot Water Campus just south of the Mississippi River bridge in downtown Baton Rouge, only a short trek along the levee from the LSU campus. It will accommodate both the Water Institute and the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.
The campus will be constructed in three phases, with the first structure planned to house a large physical model of the Mississippi River. It will enable researchers to test a variety of coastal restoration methods, including river diversions.
In addition to numerous scientists and researchers, the campus is expected to house businesses with related interests.
Groat emphasized that the Institute is about applied research with the focus being on practical application.
“It’s very much converting knowledge into action,” he noted.