New Orleans — University of New Orleans professor Norma Jean Mattei was nominated by President Barack Obama last week to lead the Mississippi River Commission.

As commissioner of the agency that was founded in 1879, Mattei will help to oversee the drainage basin that covers 41 percent of the country.

“I’m really excited about it,” Mattei said. “The Mississippi River is such an important asset to the New Orleans area, the state and the whole middle of the country.” Nearly the entire nation is serviced by the goods transported on the river, she noted.

A licensed professional engineer, Mattei received her bachelor’s degree and her Ph.D. from Tulane University. She is a professor and chairwoman of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UNO and chairwoman of the Education Committee for the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. Mattei currently serves as the Region Five Director on the National Board of Direction for the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Mattei described the annual “balancing act” in dealing the dangers and challenges that can result from water levels that are either too high or too low.

The river presents other timely issues, she said, such as the dredging of the river and looking at ways to utilize the valuable land-building sediment rather than dumping the material off the continental shelf. River diversions and other coastal restoration projects are also vital components, she said.

“It’s really something personal,” Mattei said, in that she is a native New Orleanian and acutely aware of the river’s impact on the region.

Mattei said she will travel to Washington, D.C., in the next few weeks for her confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

Nominated by the president along with six other key administration posts, Obama said in a release that, “I am honored that these talented individuals have decided to join this administration and serve our country. I look forward to working with them in the months and years to come.”

If confirmed, Mattei will serve as commissioner for a nine-year term. Mattei said she will stay at UNO but will have various meetings added to her schedule, including multiple trips during the year when she will travel from the very beginning of the river to its mouth, examining the river system in its entirety and speaking with all vested interests.

“There’s a lot going on,” Mattei said. “It’s an interesting time to be chosen for the commission.”