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UL Lafayette opens new research center with a flood-focused agenda

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The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s newest research center is poised to become one of the state’s preeminent centers for interdisciplinary research and education of watershed-scale solutions for flood risk management and water resources sustainability.

Placed under the Institute for Coastal and Water Research’s canopy, the Louisiana Watershed Flood Center will operate through an interdisciplinary nexus to study watersheds, or the land that drains into a body of water such as a river, lake, stream or bay.

“It’s no secret that water is one of the main themes for our state,” said center director Dr. Emad Habib. Louisiana, known as “Sportsman’s Paradise” for its abounding wildlife and water sources, has about 84 percent available surface water.

Habib said the Watershed Flood Center’s conception was a response to the urgent need for a solution after the devastating August 2016 floods left many South Louisiana properties and popular roadways under feet of water.

“We are seeing that flooding is not just a coastal problem anymore,” the civil engineering professor noted. “The storms brought attention to inland flooding and its impacts on storm water and drainage systems within the community.”

The Center will feature a wide range of research specialties from engineering and geosciences to architecture and community design to history and social sciences in its effort to study and understand every aspect of the region’s ongoing flooding issues.

“In the past, people would look at areas from a political jurisdiction perspective, and water, of course, doesn’t know these boundaries. The best approach is to look at where the water is and how it’s moving, so that we can learn to manage it.”

Habib said he hopes the Watershed Flood Center will be used as an anchor for community members to establish a collaborative network with the University in a well-rounded attempt to solve flood-related issues.

The Center is already working with the Acadiana Planning Commission and Teche-Vermilion Freshwater District to develop regional-scale flood monitoring capabilities.  They recently deployed a pilot set of flood sensors at one of the main coulees of the Vermilion River that passes through Moncus Park at the Horse Farm. Eventually, Habib said that this will lead to a first-of-its-kind flood monitoring network across Acadiana.

Using a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration seed grant, the Center is also working on developing regional flood forecasting linkages to the National Water Model, which analyzes more than 2.7 million channels and stream segments across the U.S.

In addition, the Center researchers are using funding from the Louisiana Sea Grant to study and develop innovative solutions for recharging the state’s groundwater aquifers, which will eventually help fight subsidence and salt water intrusion from the Gulf of Mexico. The pilot site for the study will take place in the Chicot Aquifer in Southwest Louisiana.

“With the launch of the Louisiana Watershed Flood center, the University is building on decades of inter-disciplinary research and partnerships to help provide data-driven and science-based solutions to address issues of water and water management that we face in this region and across the globe,” said Dr. Ramesh Kolluru, vice president for research, innovation and economic development.

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