Making Waves

Louisiana Emerges As Global Leader In Water Management

In Louisiana, firms by the dozen focus their skills on the fragile relationship between coastal lands and water. More than 100,000 professionals work in the state’s emerging water management sector, one that targets preserving coastal habitats while protecting the millions of people who live near the Gulf of Mexico.

Dutch Inspiration Meets Louisiana Collaboration

For inspiration, Louisiana leaders are looking to Europe and the low-lying Netherlands for fail-safe solutions. For more than 1,000 years, the Dutch have engineered structures to protect populated North Sea shorelines. There, they’ve achieved a delicate balance on the vulnerable deltas of three rivers: the Rhine, the Meuse and the Schelde.

The Netherlands offers more than physical plans for a fast-growing Louisiana sector. In time, water management could rival energy and health care atop the list of largest employers in the Louisiana economy.

Over 100,000 Professionals

Work in the State's Emerging Water Management Sector

In July 2017, leaders of the renowned Dutch research institute Deltares joined Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, Ehrenwerth and other partners of the Water Institute of the Gulf to announce the two institutes will marshal resources to solve Louisiana’s coastal challenge and apply that research worldwide.

The Deltares partnership will serve as a boon to the Water Institute and development of the Water Campus — a 35-acre, public-private research park at the foot of the Mississippi River, near downtown Baton Rouge and Louisiana State University.

“By combining forces with private research institutions, such as The Water Institute of the Gulf and Deltares, this (agreement) will help us establish a beachhead for mission success,” Gov. Edwards says. “As we work to save hundreds of square miles of Louisiana’s coast, we will attract thousands of jobs across the state and build the Water Campus as a global leader in the water management sector.”

Real-World Research

Already, the Water Institute of the Gulf has teamed with Deltares to develop a tool that uses real-time weather data to forecast flooding impact for schools, hospitals and other structures days ahead of a storm.

The Water Campus is a 35-acre, public-private research park at the foot of the Mississippi River, near downtown Baton Rouge and Louisiana State University.

Such is the sense of what’s at stake for Louisiana and other coastal environments, in emergency-weather situations and in the long climactic slog of coastal erosion. Lives are affected not just by storms, but also by natural and manmade forces squeezing shorelines, barrier isles, estuaries and marshes over generations.

Here’s why the five-year-old Water Institute ranks as a critical part of Louisiana’s water management sector: Its scientists — drawn from around the world — are modeling solutions for threatened ecosystems as varied as Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, the North Atlantic coast and the Great Lakes in the Upper Midwest.

“What we learn from our research can be applied in so many places,” Ehrenwerth says.

Environmentally Necessary, Economically Viable

Elsewhere across Louisiana, researchers and entrepreneurs are devising ways to slow and reverse coastal land loss, to boost seafood production, and to build shoreline defenses with maximum efficiency. Homegrown companies are exporting technology as communities around the globe face rising seas and other risks.

Strategic public and private investment aim to restore Louisiana’s coast, including a first-of-its-kind $50 billion master plan for coastal restoration. Simultaneously, this investment is driving expansion of a water management industry that will produce thousands of new jobs.

According to a 2017 LSU study,

$750 million

per year in coastal-rebuilding projects over the next 15 years could generate

8,000 jobs & $1 billion

per year in economic impact

The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of Louisiana, the state agency charged with executing the master plan, estimates that spending on marsh creation, coastal protection and other projects could average $1 billion to $2 billion per year during the plan’s 50-year execution period.

The state’s water management sector isn’t just about potential. In Louisiana, 118,370 people already pursue water management-related professions, where the average wage is $82,778, according to the regional economic development organization, Greater New Orleans Inc. Over the next decade, the industry is expected to grow by 23.4 percent in Louisiana, outpacing the nation.

The Port of Caddo-Bossier, Shreveport

Water: Our Most Abundant Natural Advantage

Water is Louisiana’s most abundant resource, and its established role in the state’s economy is hard to overstate. The Mississippi River and its tributaries — including 40,000 linear miles of rivers, streams and bayous — connect to 38 interior states and the largest-capacity inland waterway system in the world.

The waterway system also is big business: Louisiana is home to five of the Top 15 ports by tonnage in the U.S. Louisiana’s ports and waterways are assets of national and global importance.

A case in point: More than 1.5 million barrels of crude oil per day pass through pipelines at South Louisiana’s Port Fourchon, which plays a strategic role in furnishing the nation with 18 percent of its total oil supply.

Inland ports far from Louisiana’s coast likewise derive a strategic advantage by connecting to global markets. Access to world-class shipping infrastructure was a key element in Benteler Steel/Tube of Germany’s decision to invest nearly $1 billion in a massive new 1.4 million-square-foot manufacturing plant at The Port of Caddo-Bossier in Northwest Louisiana.

The 2,000-acre port is an industrial anchor and a multimodal transportation and distribution center located on the Red River. Its unique location allows the port to link businesses with domestic and international markets via the Mississippi River and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.

The ports in Louisiana serve as the entryway to the nation and also the front door to the rest of the world. The interconnectedness of our waterways to inland and offshore resources is what makes them such a powerful advantage.
- Vic Lafont
President and CEO of the South Louisiana Economic Council

Coastal planning and restoration initiatives are creating export opportunities for Louisiana engineers, architects and entrepreneurs.

New Orleans architecture firm Waggonner & Ball played a key role in water planning and other post-Hurricane Katrina efforts to fortify the city against future storms. Its current projects include resiliency projects in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and other coastal communities.

“Companies recognize market opportunities in a sector that generates jobs and revenues around the management of water,” says Robin Barnes, executive vice president and chief operating officer of GNO Inc.

A Wave of Innovation For Coastal Conservation

Nature-based “green” infrastructure combined with manmade shoreline defenses are an important focus for Louisiana water-sector innovators, including startup firms.

Martin Ecosystems designs and manufactures manmade islands that can filter nitrates and pollutants out of urban wastewater or buffer vulnerable coastlines.

Martin Ecosystems of Baton Rouge designs and manufactures plant-covered “islands” made from nontoxic recycled plastic bottles. Its floating, manmade islands can filter nitrates and other pollutants out of urban wastewater or buffer vulnerable coastline from the soil-eroding impact of waves. Founded in 2008, the small business now serves customers in 15 states and several foreign markets.

Cultivating and celebrating the water sector is a growing focus of economic development groups in Louisiana. New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, the city’s annual celebration of local startups, includes a Water Challenge competition among entrepreneurs engaged in water management and coastal restoration.

Water Challenge competitors in 2016 included Caminada Bay Oyster Farm of Grand Isle, Louisiana, which has developed a way to grow oysters in cage-like underwater structures that use nutrients found in coastal water currents.

ORA Estuaries, a past Water Challenge winner, makes concrete reefs that act as marsh-protecting breakwaters while also providing oyster habitat.

Tierra Resources is another pioneer in shore protection (and a past Water Challenge winner). The firm developed a faster, less-expensive way to plant mangrove trees that function as marshland stabilizers. In 2015, it completed a three-year, mangrove-planting project with ConocoPhillips, which owns 638,000 acres of Gulf of Mexico marshland.

The pilot effort included the first-ever use of crop dusters to “air seed” young mangroves over Louisiana’s salt marshes. Tierra Resources also developed technology to identify coastal sites that are optimal for planting black mangroves, a native Louisiana species that is effective at storing carbon in its woody fibers.

Black mangroves have moved further north in Louisiana in recent years as a result of increasingly warm winters. Through air seeding, Tierra Resources accelerates this naturally occurring change.

“This is a way to protect our natural coast while also protecting billions of dollars in infrastructure,” says Sarah Mack, Tierra Resources founder and CEO. Mack said the firm’s technology could be used in other coastal areas that are looking to mangroves for coastal protection, such as northern Australia.

Black mangrove trees

Water Management As a Workforce Priority

With this undeniable economic impact, Louisiana is preparing for a workforce future filled with water-related jobs. GNO Inc. recently completed its first “World of Work: Water Series” to inform career counselors and teachers about growing opportunities for high-wage, high-demand jobs in water management, along with the training needed to secure those jobs.

Much of Louisiana’s water management prowess will spring from the 35-acre Water Campus, where the Baton Rouge research park will function as a living laboratory for solutions that can save coasts and protect their 2 billion inhabitants worldwide.

In addition to developing 1.8 million square feet of research and commercial office space in Baton Rouge, Water Campus visitors will be able to walk out onto the Mississippi River via a transformed, former municipal dock. That educational tourism attraction, opening in December 2017, will be home to The Water Institute of the Gulf and a companion center.

The Center for Coastal & Deltaic Solutions will propel Louisiana onto the cutting-edge of coastal protection innovation, with Baton Rouge serving as a thriving landmark for major business and restoration projects.
- John Davies
President and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, a founding Water Campus partner.

As the state’s most abundant resource, water will continue to drive Louisiana’s economy in the future, expanding opportunities for trade, research and innovation. And the timing for growing water management capacity couldn’t be more critical for the U.S. Nearly 40 percent of the nation’s population and over 40 percent of its economic output is linked to U.S. coastlines.

“Louisiana already understands the economic importance of its coastline,” write George Hobor, Allison Plyer and Ben Horwitz in The Coastal Index: The Problem and Possibility of Our Coast, a study by The Data Center of New Orleans. “Only a few states and regions have begun to tackle this challenge. Louisiana is in the vanguard.”

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