LSU Professor Frank Tsai develops groundwater management model

Published 2:23 pm Thursday, July 15, 2021

BATON ROUGE – LSU Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Frank Tsai recently received an $800,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or NSF EPSCoR, to conduct integrated groundwater management for the Gulf region. This grant is part of a $6 million multi-university project between Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

“LSU’s role here is very important because we are leading the development of a regional-scale groundwater model across multiple states,” Tsai said. “Then we will study groundwater availability impacted by anthropogenic pumping, climate change and droughts. The goal of this project is institutional capacity building and collaborations among EPSCoR jurisdictional states.”

Tsai, who serves as director of the Louisiana Water Resources Research Institute in LSU’s Patrick F. Taylor Hall, dedicates his time to groundwater studies and has compiled hundreds of thousands of well logs in the Lower Mississippi-Gulf region showing complex groundwater systems made over millions of years. In working with Southern University, the University of Mississippi, and the University of Alabama, Tsai hopes to create an unprecedented high-fidelity groundwater model and better water resource management for the Gulf region.

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“The groundwater we are pumping comes from different depths,” he said. “Those geologically permeable zones are aquifers. We are fortunate to have abundant groundwater resources in Louisiana that you do not often see in other states. We’re going to build a unified hydrogeologic framework and a lithofacies model across multiple states, which has never been done before. This will be a significant contribution to the region. Hopefully, the project results will elevate our research capacity and generate more collaborative proposals among these three states and other states in the future.”

Tsai has also received a $569,000 grant from the Capital Area Groundwater Conservation District of Louisiana for the Capital Area Ground Water Conservation Commission, or CAGWCC, Phase 2 project. This grant is part of a $1.9 million collaborative project led by the Water Institute of the Gulf. Tsai has been studying saltwater intrusion in the Southern Hills aquifer system in five parishes—East and West Baton Rouge, Point Coupee, and East and West Feliciana. LSU’s role in this project is to develop a scientific modeling tool—a Capital Area groundwater availability model—to provide to CAGWCC for groundwater planning and management.

“The Phase 2 project aims to integrate the LSU model with other water management strategies, such as alternative water sources from rivers, wastewater, and storm water, including social and economic analyses,” Tsai said. “Because we have groundwater issues right now, especially in the Baton Rouge area, the project is looking into reducing groundwater pumping. There is potential to use more surface water from the Mississippi River or reclaimed water. If the commission is able to find a way to reduce groundwater withdrawal, then the groundwater level in Baton Rouge will bounce back due to less pumping, which will help reduce saltwater intrusion and land subsidence in the area.”

This research forms a partnership with the Capital Area Groundwater Conservation District, the Water Institute of the Gulf, the U.S. Geological Survey, and Freese and Nichols Inc.