LSU and CPRA unveil new LSU Center for River Studies

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen
Birds-eye view of the Mississippi River near White Castle.

The Louisiana coast is changing and the LSU Center for River Studies is working to solve the problems that the state and Mississippi River are facing.

Louisiana has lost nearly 2,000 square miles of coastal land since the 1930s; that’s a coastal crisis,” said Rudy Simoneaux, engineer manager for the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, or CPRA.

One reason why Louisiana’s coast is disappearing is because river diversions have stopped sand, mud and sediment that naturally flow down the Mississippi River from reaching the delta to rebuild the wetlands.

The LSU Center for River Studies and strategic partners around the state and nation now have a new, advanced tool to study and address this crisis: the Lower Mississippi River Model. It’s located in an area of Baton Rouge known as the Water Campus, a growing space that includes a partnership with the Louisiana government, East Baton Rouge Parish government, as well as LSU and CPRA.

The idea of a physical model is to scale down the real-world system in a way that allows us to do controlled experiments in a certain-sized laboratory or space. And at the same time, you want to replicate the physics of the system as you can,” said Clint Willson, director of the LSU Center for River Studies and the Mike Dooley Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

The state-of-the-art physical model is housed inside a new center, where visitors will also find educational exhibits.

The Center for River Studies has three primary objectives. The first is the research we’re going to be able to do around the Mississippi River and other coastal rivers around the state. Number two is going to be the education and outreach; and then number three is really providing a collaborative space on the Water Campus so that visiting scientists, engineers and federal or state agency people can utilize the center as a creative space around different restoration and protection strategies,” Willson said.

LSU students are given the opportunity to take part in the experiments.

You can actually visualize what’s going on. And in our science, there’s not a lot of experiments because we deal with such large areas and this is a rare opportunity,” said Chris Turnipseed, a first-year Ph.D. student studying civil engineering.

I think we’re really going to enhance the education of our undergraduate and graduate students with the experience they’re going to get at the center. They’ll be able to run experiments under very controlled conditions. They’ll be able to compare what’s happening in the model to what’s actually happening in the river,” Willson said.

Willson adds LSU students will be able to share their research with visiting groups like students in junior high and high school as well as scientists and politicians. He expects that experience to allow the LSU students to become more well-rounded.

It’s just a fabulous opportunity for students to get some hands-on experience on a river that’s not just important to the state or the nation, but really around the world,” Willson said.

Willson said the opportunities stem from the important partnership between LSU and CPRA. Rudy Simoneaux, CPRA’s engineer manager, said the agency helped plan, design and fund the center’s development.

It’s kind of a match made in heaven,” Simoneaux said.

I think we are going to be doing some really valuable research — both basic and applied research, in terms of understanding the river, understanding the hydraulics of the river and then really translating that to actionable science or engineering that the state can do,” Willson said.

Contributed by LSU