Industries in Louisiana have been working with environmental groups, state agencies and university scientists to brainstorm potential solutions addressing water quality issues.
Ranging from wetlands restoration to reducing the size of the annual low-oxygen “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, the collaboration through the Louisiana Water Synergy Project is meant to deal with potential risks to water in the Baton Rouge-New Orleans industrial corridor and beyond.
The project got started several years ago through the efforts of the nonprofit United States Business Council for Sustainable Development, said Susan Fernandes, manager of the project with the council.
“Water is critical to business, but it’s also critical to agriculture, the cities where we live and the environment,” Fernandes said Wednesday.
Fernandes’ comments came on the first day of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association annual meeting in New Orleans.
The trade association represents oil and gas industries that have operations in Louisiana or the Gulf of Mexico, from oil and gas exploration and drilling to marketing and refining.
The focus of the first day of the two-day conference was on refining and environmental issues as well as state regulatory issues.
The business council developed the water synergy project as a way to get in front of potential or ongoing water issues in Louisiana’s industrial corridors. At first, Fernandes said, she got a lot of stares.
Nevertheless, industrial partners got on board and have been meeting four times a year to brainstorm ideas for water quality improvements that also offer opportunities for business.
For the industrial corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, some of those issues involve groundwater protection, wetlands protection and restoration, hurricane protection and reducing the amount of nutrients in the Mississippi River. These nutrients, which come from fertilizer, city sewer treatment facilities and some industrial releases, lead to the annual formation of the “dead zone” area of low oxygen in the gulf.
At the same time, thanks to cheaper natural gas, this industrial corridor is experiencing historic growth.
In addition to industrial representatives, the water synergy project involves environmental groups like the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and the Nature Conservancy as well as university researchers and the Water Institute of the Gulf.
They are looking at wetlands restoration and protection, nutrient reduction to the Mississippi River, sustainable water supplies and alternative levee construction materials.
Projects completed so far include an inventory of Mississippi River industrial corridor nutrients, updating the inventory done in 2000.
The new inventory confirms that industrial sources between Baton Rouge and New Orleans contributed very little to the nutrient problem. It’s long been held that the main source of fertilizer and other nutrients to the Mississippi are from upriver.
Results of the inventory are expected to be presented this week to the Louisiana Nutrient Management Team, she said.
Other projects include looking at using industrial waters to help create healthy wetland systems and organizing volunteers to help replant trees in the Lake Maurepas land bridge area, she said.
One project this year involves developing a water quality trading program that could help reduce overall nutrients to the Mississippi River at a lower cost than traditional regulation. The program could involve industries being able to buy or sell credits, much like is done with air pollution credits now. Eventually, a nutrient trading program could involve paying for credits on nutrient reductions made on agricultural fields with the money going to farmers to offset the cost of the conservation measures.
Other work this year could involve developing an online educational game to raise awareness about Louisiana wetland loss and investigating options for making water supplies more sustainable in places such as Baton Rouge, where saltwater intrusion threatens some water supply.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.