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Institute Seeks to Bridge Gap Between Research and Engineering to Save Gulf


This week the state legislature unanimously approved the 2012 Louisiana Coastal Master Plan, a 50 year blueprint for restoring disappearing wetlands and protecting the state's natural resources.

Coastal land loss is an ongoing problem in gulf states and there are many agencies, non-profits and universities working to solve it. An independent research institute hopes to be the linchpin that brings them all together. The Water Institute of the Gulf was founded last year and has just selected UL-Lafayette civil engineering professor Ehab Meselhe as the new director of natural systems. He's also heading up a five-year, $25 million federally funded project studying land loss and restoration.

WRKF's Tegan Wendland talked with him about how he hopes the Water Institute will streamline efforts to save the gulf.

WENDLAND: What is the water institute doing that the Mississippi River Delta Association and Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority aren't?

MESELHE: First let me start by saying what the landscape is today. There are: the state of Louisiana - the CPRA office, the academic institutions, there are the federal agencies and federal laboratories and there are the industrial, private consulting firms, and the NGOs, the non-government agencies. The institute is intended to help bridge the gap between the basic science that gets done at the universities and the wealth of practical expertise in the private sector. And if we can make sure that these two are efficiently connected and provide the best and most efficient tools and technology so that we can actually use them in implementing projects - this is something the institute will provide to the state. The institute is not supposed to replace anybody, we will work with the federal labs, the NGOs and the industry and be sort of like the hub and all of these different areas of expertise can pore into this hub and provide the best science available and the most efficient tools so that we can restore our coast efficiently and comprehensively.

WENDLAND: Are other states doing similar things?

MESELHE: There are actually other models in other states, as well as on the international level that have institutes similar to this one, this is not the first of its kind - it's the first effort of its kind in south Louisiana, but there are definitely other entities that exist and other major restoration efforts here in the United States as well as internationally.

WENDLAND: Your website says, "the Water Institute is contributing to an industry for coastal restoration and hurricane protection ... and creating science and technology in Louisiana," so it actually sounds like you're trying to promote industry in the state too?....

MESELHE: We want to build science capacity in south Louisiana so that we can fill that role of harnessing technology or science from the academic world; making sure that the consulting companies that provide services to CPRA are informed about the latest tools and technology that they can use for their analysis, and at the end, so that we can provide better science and services to the state.

WENDLAND: Can you give us a glimpse of what the institute's plan, which you plan to release in August, might suggest about the current direction of coastal protection efforts and where we might be headed in the future?

MESELHE: The institute is going to promote, in general larger scale system views, whether it's for the Mississippi River and delta area or for the entire coast, and, eventually, the institute is supposed to expand to cover the entire coast. We'll start with focusing on the state of Louisiana, naturally, but the idea is to eventually expand to encompass the entire gulf area. We will work very closely with current activities with the universities. We will include information from the private sector too, but we will try to build these sectors together.