Joining a Remarkable Team in Making a Difference 

Although I officially began work as the president and CEO of The Water Institute of the Gulf just last week, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and talk with many of you in the last couple months and during my years in Louisiana as executive director of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. I’m honored to succeed Dr. Chip Groat, the Institute’s founding President and CEO. Under Dr. Groat’s leadership, The Water Institute has blossomed into a world-class applied research organization and I’m thrilled that Dr. Groat has agreed to remain on our team through the end of April to assist with the transition.
For those who may not know me as well, I wanted to take this chance to tell you a little about myself, why I chose to join the Institute team, and what the future holds for this independent research center.
I received my B.A. from Colby College in Waterville, Maine before moving on to get a master’s degree in philosophy, politics, and economics at the University of Oxford and a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
I worked in the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of General Counsel before becoming assistant counsel to the President and then the chief of staff to the U.S. Department of Commerce deputy secretary. Then in 2013, I became the founding executive director for the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, charged with restoring the ecosystem and helping the economy of the Gulf Coast in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
During that time, I’ve witnessed firsthand the incredible impact the Institute has had on Louisiana and Gulf Coast restoration efforts. The Institute’s reputation – both individually and collectively – is remarkable.
The important work the Institute does in Louisiana, and increasingly around the world, makes a difference in people’s lives by giving decision makers the strong science they need to better protect coastal communities, improve economies, and the environment. The chance to be a part of that effort was too good to pass up.
From the Institute’s work on the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s draft 2017 Coastal Master Plan to the building of relationships with other coastal communities such as in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, it’s clear the pressures and threats are similar around the world. What we’ve learned through the decades of collective research of the Institute’s scientists is something that can be exported to help so many others.
As the Institute moves into its sixth year of operation, thanks to the dedicated work of our team, partners, and supporters, I see exciting times in our future and would encourage you to reach out directly to me to discuss partnership opportunities. I look forward to working with you all as we make that future a reality. 
Justin Ehrenwerth
President and CEO

Featured Project 


The Institute actively supported the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority in bringing the best research and science together to develop the 2017 Coastal Master Plan. This draft plan, released January 3, moves the planning efforts from 2007 and 2012 forward by advancing a comprehensive and integrated approach identifying projects and investments that make our communities more resilient and sustainable.

Our role at the Institute involved developing numerical tools to provide a deeper understanding of Louisiana's current and future 50-year coastal environment while taking into account a variety of scenarios based on a broad set of natural and manmade variables. Recent projects include advancing modeling tools, incorporating a larger geographic area, and increasing spatial detail of land loss and flood risk.

"We at the Institute are proud of our ability to provide CPRA with the science and numerical tools needed to prioritize large-scale restoration efforts for coastal Louisiana," said Ehab Meselhe, director of Natural Systems Modeling at the Institute. "The Integrated Compartment Model (ICM) is a prime example of our team and partners collaboratively working to expand upon existing data and to address ways in which groups of projects included in the 2012 plan can be combined and sequenced to assist decision makers in producing the best outcome for our coast."

In addition to developing the ICM and identifying future scenarios, the Institute updated the input datasets and boundary conditions and improving the following modeling components:

  • Sediment Distribution
  • Marsh Edge Erosion
  • Barrier Shoreline
  • Ecosystem Outcomes
  • Storm Surge and Wave

The draft 2017 Coastal Master Plan serves as a science-based resource and draws upon a team of experts at the local, regional, and national level. Last April, Gov. John Bel Edwards underlined the importance of this cooperation when he issued an executive order directing all state agencies to operate in a manner consistent with the Coastal Master Plan.

A list of technical reports documenting the models used to evaluate restoration projects for the Coastal Master Plan is available at

In the News

The Institute has been making waves! Check out a few recent news highlights below. Topics include a recent study about salt water impacts on Louisiana wetlands, Gulf of Mexico hypoxia, a Louisiana land loss segment on CBS, and progress on the Institute's new home.

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"Louisiana Coastal Atlas," to be Released in March

It's one thing to hear that people in south Louisiana have moved away from the coast for generations due to hurricanes or land loss, but quite another to see a map showing how that hallmark of a community - the post office - transitioned northward between 1900 to 2000.
It's striking and a good introduction to a new book due out in March, "A Louisiana Coastal Atlas: Resources, Economies, and Demographics," authored by the Institute's Scott Hemmerling and published by LSU Press.  
Full of maps that allow a reader to quickly glance at changing conditions over time, the book gives an unprecedented look at the changes Louisiana has seen during the 20th and 21st centuries. From the changing density of farming, fishing, and forestry to the changing landscape of oil and gas exploration, the maps show the shifting tides of populations, resources, and economics across the state.
With an introduction by LSU's Craig Colton, "A Louisiana Coastal Atlas," is available in preorder now from Amazon and from LSU Press now.

Staff Spotlight 

Melissa M. Baustian

With a persistent passion for conducting research geared towards understanding coastal ecosystems to help guide decision-making processes, Melissa M. Baustian, Ph.D. joined the Institute in 2013. As a coastal ecologist, Baustian undertakes observational projects that are used to improve our knowledge of ecological responses to anthropogenic changes, including nutrient enrichment, climate change, and restoration initiatives.

Shifting her time between the field, laboratory, and office, Baustian leads high priority projects for the Institute, including the examination of how shifts from saltmarsh grasses to mangrove-dominated systems in Louisiana may influence the abundance of juvenile nekton, including the bottom feeding blue crabs and brown shrimp and carbon flow through existing marsh food webs. This research is funded by the Louisiana Sea Grant and represents a collaborative effort with Louisiana State University, where Baustian also serves as an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences.

“Participating and leading interdisciplinary projects as well as applying scientific results to coastal managers and decision makers is what I enjoy most at the Institute,” said Baustian. “Understanding and addressing the complexities within coastal ecosystems requires close coordination with multiple disciplines. Working at the Institute undoubtedly provides an environment in which I can collaborate with various scientists and engineers who have their own distinctive discipline, but know how to effectively work together.”

Baustian worked closely with a team of modelers and coastal geologists to support the development of a large-scale basin wide model used to examine nutrient-related dynamics from proposed sediment diversions outlined in the Coastal Master Plan. She is also currently collaborating with the United States Geological Survey and Gulf South Research Corporation in studying carbon dynamics in four marsh types throughout Louisiana to help better understand how climate change or coastal restoration might influence soil carbon decomposition and accumulation in marshes. The first of at least five scientific papers from this work was published in the journal “Wetlands” in January.

During graduate school, Baustian gained interdisciplinary experience through studying the benthic ecology of the bottom-water hypoxic area, commonly referred to as the “Dead Zone,” in the waters off Louisiana’s coast. She took that collaboration experience to her next project where she partnered with an environmental economist and several other water researchers as a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Center for Water Sciences at Michigan State University, where she studied the essential mechanisms that couple humans and ecosystems in the Laurentian Great Lakes.

Baustian’s research continues to pursue and investigate how the changing Louisiana coastal landscape – including influences from climate change, coastal restoration, nutrient effects, and harmful algal blooms – may influence benthic and pelagic food webs and habitats essential for the health and sustainability of the coast.

To contact Melissa M. Baustian, send an email to

Each quarter, we will feature a different member of our distinguished team to highlight the diversity and strength of competencies housed at The Water Institute.

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