The Water Institute of the Gulf conducted a worldwide search for its next leader, but found the right fit in its own backyard.

The institute announced Wednesday that Justin Ehrenwerth will take the helm as president and CEO starting Jan. 30.

Ehrenwerth is the founding executive director of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, an organization charged with administering billions of dollars of Deepwater Horizon civil penalties through the RESTORE Act, according to a Water Institute news release. He has also served several roles in the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Ehrenwerth and his wife, Dana Dupré, originally from Opelousas, have called Louisiana home since 2013.

“As exciting as it has been to lead the institute through its birth, it's just as exciting to see someone with Justin’s talent and experience continue that growth,”  Chip Groat, founding and current institute president and CEO, said in the news release announcing the appointment. “Justin's familiarity with Washington D.C. as well as his relationships across the Gulf will serve the institute well.”

Ehrenwerth will take over from Groat, who helped shape the institute from its formation in 2011 with just a handful of employees to the 40-plus staff from around the world. Groat will be retiring at the end of April. 

The institute is a nonprofit, independent research organization focused on coastal, deltaic, river and water resource systems, both on the Gulf Coast and around the world. 

“The ability to be a part of an organization on the front line of coastal and water resource applied research at a time when communities around the globe are facing unprecedented threats is a challenge I couldn't resist,” Ehrenwerth said in the news release.

After working at the office of General Counsel in the U.S. Department of Commerce, Ehrenwerth served as assistant counsel to the President, taking the lead on Deepwater Horizon litigation for the White House, along with the Department of Justice. He subsequently became chief of staff to the U.S. Department of Commerce's deputy secretary, overseeing management, policy and strategic planning for a federal agency with an annual budget of $10 billion and with 47,000 employees.

“While much of our focus to date has been, and will continue to be, on coastal Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico, the institute is undertaking work with a worldwide application and that's how we conducted this search. It just so happened that the best person for the job was right in our backyard,” Kevin Reilly Jr., chairman of the Institute's board of directors, said in the release. 

The new home for the institute is taking shape along the Mississippi River near downtown Baton Rouge, joining the LSU Center for River Studies and state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority at the Water Campus.