Because coastal erosion is threatening the very existence of Louisiana, we have welcomed the development of not only physical restoration projects but the intellectual infrastructure to combat coastline loss.

That is going to be advanced by the development of a permanent research center on the Mississippi River in downtown Baton Rouge. The $22 million Water Institute of the Gulf Research and Conference Center is just the first project in a build-out of the institute’s physical spaces.

The institute will be housed on two floors of the new building, with a third floor devoted to academic conventions and research conferences.

Gov. Bobby Jindal and Water Institute President Chip Groat were among the speakers at a groundbreaking for the new center.

By 2017, the institute will move from rented space to the new headquarters.

It’s a great project, like the parks and convention spaces along the river in downtown New Orleans. Our cities need to be able to look upon the river, the reason for the existence of our communities since the 17th century. This new project harkens back to Baton Rouge’s river roots, said John Davies, president of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, which played a leadership role in the institute’s formation.

But it’s not just a matter of physical development, although that will be impressive. What matters is what the institute does, and that includes a tremendous amount of technical research into Louisiana’s river deltas and those around the world facing similar challenges.

“We strive to conduct world-class applied research focused on sustaining the vitality of the world’s great coasts and deltas,” said Groat, a veteran coastal scientist at LSU who returned from the University of Texas to head the new institute. “Our roots are in Louisiana’s great delta and coast.”

The institute hopes to expand from about 45 scientists, engineers and technology specialists to about 80 in the next five years. The institute will adjoin the offices of the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and the LSU Center for River Studies, also now under construction.

We hope that the institute, collaborating closely with not only LSU but Tulane University and other research institutions, will help spur not only new knowledge about the coast’s challenges but perhaps one day generate economic returns.

Jindal’s ambitions for the center include its potential as “a magnet for water management research worldwide” that he hopes will one day generate direct and indirect jobs in water management in the state.

As the institute expands, it can and should be a central research hub for the state and federal agencies working in the Louisiana coastal zone. We have high hopes for its prospects.