By: Michael Joe, Reporter - New Orleans City Business
In the absence of a unified federal water policy, Louisiana and other states are taking the lead to spur innovation and enterprise around water as a strategic resource to drive economic development.
“We really do not have a national water policy. We don’t see water as a strategic resource to drive economic development, business growth and social well-being,”
said Will Sarni, a water strategy author and advisor to
multinationals, entrepreneurs and public-sector enterprises.
“We view water as compliance issue, fundamentally, and an allocation
issue. So water policy is highly decentralized at the state and local level.”
Sarni spoke about the water economy and new technologies at The
Frontier Conference in New Orleans on Friday.
“Louisiana could really be a center for innovation,” Sarni said.
“We tend to gravitate toward scarcity issues; not having enough water drives
innovation. Well, things like coastal erosion, water quality, too much water
at the wrong times — that drives innovation, also.”
State and local economic officials, advocates and analysts also see vast economic potential in water management and coastal restoration in Louisiana.
Water management is one of nine key growth industries identified by state officials to receive the bulk of economic development resources. Recently, public and private investment combined to create the Water Campus in Baton Rouge, a newly opened $60 million collaborative research center devoted to studying coastal restoration and
sustainability. And nonprofit groups like the Louisiana Water Economy Network and the New Orleans Data Center are monitoring the growth of the watershed management sector.
They are hoping the state can leverage billions of federal dollars for coastal protection and restoration in coming years, in addition to billions in penalty money from the 2010 oil spill, to turn southeast Louisiana into a water management innovation hub.
“Infusions of federal funds have catalyzed self-sustaining industry clusters before — most recognizably Silicon Valley,” the data center wrote in its 2017 coastal index report, adding that “to become a self-sustaining cluster, Louisiana must not only develop scientific preeminence in the field of flood risk reduction but also commercialize that science. There are likely dozens of innovations in flood-risk reduction that could be developed and marketed to bring in revenues from national and global markets that will soon face these challenges.”
Sarni believes the economic opportunity is there for Louisiana.
“Water is everything: It’s a spiritual issue, it’s a social issue, it’s an economic and business issue,”
Sarni said. “I think there’s an opportunity (in Louisiana) to flip the script around and make it a positive as opposed to a burden and hassle.”