A list of board members for a new “water institute” in Louisiana targeting coastal research and restoration could be available within the next month and the search process for an executive director will begin soon, officials involved with the project said Tuesday.
The state has been working with the Baton Rouge Area Foundation on a water institute concept — similar to the Netherlands’ Deltares — and how it should be structured, said Kyle Graham, deputy director of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s implementation office.
“Our goal is to have an executive director in place in the November-December time frame,” Graham said.
A “water institute” — a formal name for the organization has not been decided — is envisioned to be a nonprofit, independent organization the state could use in ongoing efforts to stabilize Louisiana’s eroding coast, Graham said.
The water institute planning is on schedule and there should be a framework and an initial list of nine board members ready to release within the next month, said John Davies, executive director of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.
Although Davies said all but two of the members have been confirmed, BRAF spokesman Mukul Verma said the foundation is still working on the makeup of the board so what fields of expertise these board members will have is not currently available. A search firm will be selected to find an executive director, he said.
The water institute could serve several functions, one of which would be as a centralized place to discuss and concentrate on ongoing and new research into coastal restoration techniques and monitoring, Graham said.
For example, data management is something many state agencies currently do, Graham said, and data is something that the state needs to put into computer models being used for coastal restoration purposes.
In addition, the state is putting together many computer models as part of the reworking of its master plan for coastal restoration and the water institute could keep that information updated.
A classic example of this type of issues that would be discussed is freshwater diversions where some scientists are concerned about adding nutrients to freshwater marshes while others say diverting water and sediment from the Mississippi River is the only way to stabilize the coast, he said.
“There’s not really a group looking at this holistically,” Graham said. The water institute would supply a forum for that kind of discussion to take place, he said.
This concept is that the water institute will be separate from the state but would help inform state decisions, Graham said.
“I don’t think it does us much good to have someone internally review our progress,” Graham said. It’s much more powerful, and useful, if these kinds of review and discussions are done by an outside group.
The concept for the water institute shares similarities with the Netherlands’ Deltares — a collaborative and independent research and consulting group that helps provide water, soil and other delta expertise to the Netherlands and around the world, Graham said.
However, the Louisiana-based water institute won’t be a carbon copy of the Netherlands’ model since the state and the Netherlands’ have different approaches and goals, he said.
Initial funding to set up the water institute will come from Baton Rouge Area Foundation, Graham said.
BRAF has not been determined what the initial funding will be and it will need to be approved by the foundation’s board, Verma said.
The state would also contract with the water institute to do specific projects and staff would then pursue other grants and contract work in addition to the state work, Graham said.
Like Deltares, it’s envisioned that the Louisiana water institute would market the knowledge and expertise to other areas of the country, which would also bring in additional money, Graham said, adding that the Louisiana Economic Development sees it as an opportunity.
“They see this as a very possible economic driver,” Graham said. “I think we could do a better job of marketing our expertise.”