The Gulf of Mexico poses a constant threat to communities in coastal Louisiana. 

And, for most of history, people couldn’t do much about it. 

Although scientists still haven’t found a way to prevent hurricanes, they can protect land from flooding and predict when a storm will come.

Efforts to safeguard coastal Louisiana ramped up after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, prompting the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority to develop a 50-year coastal master plan. 

Speaking at a meeting Wednesday in downtown Lake Charles, Justin Ehrenwerth — CEO of Baton Rouge-based research group Water Institute of the Gulf, which helped develop the master plan — called the plan the “best in the country,” if not the best in the world.

He praised local groups like the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury and the Port of Lake Charles, as well as Water Institute vice chairman Rick Richard, for helping make the plan a reality and continuing to aid the institute’s efforts. 

One of the Water Institute’s goals is updating watershed models throughout the state, and Ehrenwerth said Calcasieu Parish has some of the most up-to-date models in Louisiana thanks to parish efforts. 

Because of this, the Water Institute chose the Contraband Bayou watershed as a pilot location for its first real-time forecasting system -— creating a visual simulation of how flooding will affect the community, down to individual houses and yards. 

Additionally, he said, the institute has partnered with the Port of Lake Charles on a study that will identify the source of sediment building up in the Calcasieu Ship Channel, as well as what can be done about it economically.

Ehrenwerth espoused the benefits of “nature-based solutions” to the coastal crisis, and said using dredged material from the channel to build barriers or replace lost wetlands would be a good way to protect land and infrastructure.

Although it may be too late to save parts of coastal Cameron Parish, it’s not too late to save the rest of it. Being prepared for the next storm with the help of the new real-time forecasting system could also prevent flooding like what happened in the Greenwich Terrace and Greinwich Village areas during Hurricane Harvey.

Unlike generations past, we have the tools to stave off the gulf’s many threats, and the leadership in place to use them wisely.

Let’s hope lawmakers continue to keep coastal Louisiana in the forefront so that efforts of groups like the Water Institute aren’t in vain.

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