New computer tools are available to help with a wide variety of water issues crucial for Louisiana, including the development and management of dams to the study of how planned projects could help or hurt the state in the future.
Several new computer tools launched Thursday by The Nature Conservancy now shows the impacts of water management choices, both now and in the future.
The computer tools add to the Louisiana Freshwater Assessment project launched in 2014 which initially set the foundation for information about water quality and fisheries in the state.
The tools, announced Thursday, provide a closer look at water quality and the flow of water through watersheds. In addition, they provide information on how water management impacts two oyster areas along the coast.
The water quality aspect initially looks at conditions within three watersheds — Boeuf, Mermentau and Tangipahoa.
Working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the initial goal was to help districts target where nutrient reduction programs could do the most good. Nutrients, like those included in fertilizer, flow down waterways and into the Gulf of Mexico and contribute to the formation of the dead zone low oxygen area every summer.
Using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Environmental Quality water monitoring information, the application allows monitoring at water quality stations which can help study changes over time.
“There’s so much data, but no one ever put it all in one place,” said Piazza.
In another new addition, called HydroFlow, the computer program includes rainfall amounts and water usages from industry, agriculture and others. The program shows current conditions and flow direction, and can project changes to 2045 using three scenarios — climate change conditions, increased water usage and a combination of both.
The program also produces graphs of estimated stream flow from 1980 to 2014, and allows for a variety of scenarios to be plugged in to help planners determine changes in water flow. That could have implications for flood control or land development planning.
The tools can also be used to target conservation measures. Planners can look at what would happen if a certain area were preserved or reclaimed into wetland property and what impact that could have or reducing flooding, Piazza said.
“We can look at how forests slow water down,” Piazza said, something observed as a result of a project along the Ouachita River where farm land was returned to the river’s flood plain.
The Nature Conservancy will continue working on integrating more parts of the state water system into the current model. For example, there has been work done on coastal Louisiana models and staff is working to integrate that information into what’s already in place.
“Now that the model is built, we can run any scenario,” Piazza said.
An application, called OysterFlow, allows researchers to ask questions of the database.
The Nature Conservancy has asked the model to consider two river systems — the Sabine and Calcasieu — to help determine what would happen under a variety of decisions made with upstream water management. As an example, a question was raised about oyster growing conditions in Sabine Lake if changes were made at Toledo Bend which released less water.
“That’s 120 miles upstream,” Piazza said. “What this does is we have to be looking 120 miles upstream because water management is having an effect on the coast.”
It’s these kinds of questions that The Nature Conservancy want to hear about from agencies, cities and nonprofit conservation groups.
“It’s all about sustainable management of water,” Piazza said. “We’re not here to make decisions. We’re here to provide information that can help you make decisions.”
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