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TWIG and Deltares form promising partnership

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Justin Ehrenwerth, CEO and President of The Water Institute of the Gulf (TWIG). Photo from Gulfseafoodnews.com

Justin Ehrenwerth, CEO and President of The Water Institute of the Gulf (TWIG). Photo from Gulfseafoodnews.com

by Len Bahr, Ph.D.

On July 10 Faimon A. Roberts III with TheAdvocate.com reported that The Water Institute of the Gulf (TWIG) has signed a partnership agreement with Deltares USA, a Maryland-based, coastal consulting firm headquartered in Holland. This highly promising agreement was brokered by Justin Ehrenwerth, TWIG’s young, ambitious, and visionary new president and CEO.*

I have long held that the creation of TWIG during the Jindal administration in 2011 was a thinly-veiled attempt to offset the uncontrolled expression of politically sensitive opinions by independent coastal scientists at LSU, Tulane and other academic institutions, both within and beyond Louisiana. My admittedly cynical view was that TWIG’s highly touted existence would provide former Governor Bobby Jindal and his then chief coastal advisor Garret Graves** with opinions from highly credentialed but loyal coastal employees. This would preclude the open and independent discussion of controversial coastal issues, especially related to anthropogenic climate change.

The rationale for Jindal’s need for coastal mouthpieces was obviated in 2010 when he and Graves made their notorious sand berm decision — against all common coastal sense. The sand berm project was the governor’s call*** to squander untold millions of dollars constructing highly erodible sand berms, supposedly to block oil from the BP Blowout from washing into vulnerable coastal salt marshes.

The announcement of the TWIG-Deltares partnership and its blessing by Governor John Bel Edwards signals that the water institute is here to stay. Word on the scientific side of the street is that Mr. Ehrenwerth, who’s an environmental attorney and not a scientist, nevertheless envisions heading up a technically credible, politically independent voice for articulating sound coastal policy. Ehrenwerth is refreshingly candid in describing his goals for the redesigned water institute, goals that could revolutionize and make transparent the plethora of coastal policy decisions that have recently been emitted like puffs of Vatican smoke from the chimneys of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA).

For the many coastal newbies out there, our highly fraught coastal program to sustain much of America’s Delta, was first established in 1988 by grassroots advocates. During my long and frustrating experience with the program, through its post-Katrina expansion from coastal restoration to coastal protection and restoration, I have never seen a better opportunity than now to finally come to grips with the challenge of informing the public honestly about the challenges, risks, and possible outcomes . Meanwhile the coastal clock is ticking faster and faster, as candidly described on June 9 — in politically incorrect language — by Bob Marshall in a sobering opinion piece in Nola.com | TheTimes-Picayune.

Let’s not blow it.

* In a related report on July 11 in TheAdvocate.com, Chip Groat, former CEO of TWIG was appointed to head the cash-strapped Louisiana Geological Survey (LGS). Dr. Groat has had a long and colorful (some would say checkered) history with geological issues related to oil and gas production in Louisiana and Texas.

**Now 2nd term Congressman Graves (R-Baton Rouge).

*** With the uninformed blessing of Billy Nungesser, then Plaquemines Parish Prez and now Louisiana’s Lt. Governor.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I heard that the first diversion scoping meeting didn’t go too well for the CPRA. Anybody heard anything. Just how much authority does the CPRAuthority have? Can they chose who gets restored and who gets the bird? The diversions will get the ultimate test where the “rubber meets the road”. JB may have s–t in his nest when he challenged the Corps permit process. Lots can happen in 5 years. Will the so called CPRA “white paper” be put on a roll and compete with Charmin Tissue?

  2. Coincidentally, Louisiana public broadcasting affiliate LPB broadcast a feature on The Water Institute of the Gulf on Friday, July 14 as part of its weekly show Louisiana the State We’re In. This show includes an interview with TWIG CEO Justin Ehrenswerth and views of the Water Campus on the river in Baton Rouge. Unfortunately, LPB misspelled Justin’s name! Here’s the url to the podcast: http://video.lpb.org/video/3002766519/.

  3. riverrat says:

    It would be ironic if TWIG indeed becomes the independent actor it was touted as when it was created by the officials you name for exactly the opposite purpose. Deltares’ role in that convoluted process was itself convoluted, though no doubt unintentionally. In the immediate aftermath of the BP blowout, Deltares circulated a powerpoint to the NO District of the Corps and state officials, touting the idea of building sand barriers or berms to retard the flow of oil into coastal wetlands. The concept was strictly back of the envelope (or seat of the pants), perhaps with an eye to getting some of the dollars that would be flowing to block the oil.

    But Gov. Jindal latched onto the concept with all its lack of science and quantifiable, demonstrable efficacy, and made it the centerpiece of his vapid but ruthless war against the federal agencies for their supposed lack of concern for protecting La from the impacts of the spill. When coastal scientists at LSU, Tulane, etc. failed to endorse the berm plan, as Len notes, TWIG was developed to make sure that the state would control coastal science from that point forward, and the universities would be sidelined. TWIG has become the gatekeeper for most coastal research funding done at the universities. But if they reflect the goals of Governor JBE, i.e. honesty and transparency, even in their independence, then their role can be a positive one.

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