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Meet Outstanding Civil Engineering Master of Science Student Olivia LaHaye

UL Grad School -- 05/12/2020

Olivia LaHaye has been recognized as the recipient of the Spring 2020 Alumni Association Outstanding Master’s Graduate Award. On Friday, she will earn a Master of Science degree in civil engineering. Olivia LaHaye headshot

After completing her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at UL Lafayette in 2018, this Vidrine native decided that the master’s program was the perfect way to develop her interest and expertise in finding sustainable solutions to protect our environment.

Olivia’s research has centered on Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR), a sustainable water management solution. In this process, excess surface water is captured, treated, and injected into an underground body of permeable rock, sand, or gravel, known as an aquifer. “Our groundwater aquifers are being overdrafted due to our thriving rice and crawfish farming practices, where groundwater is heavily relied upon,” she explains. “Overdrafting of a coastal aquifer can contribute to subsidence and saltwater intrusion which leads to coastal erosion and increased flooding.”

Louisiana has an abundance of unused surface water. In her research work with Dr. Emad Habib that was funded by an external grant from the Louisiana Sea Grant program, Olivia has explored how this underutilized resource can help to balance water use and protect against the risks of overdrafting aquifers.

Olivia analyzed the feasibility of introducing ASR to Louisiana by studying aquifer characteristics, land use, and water quantity and quality. She also assessed whether diverting surface water for ASR injection could mitigate flooding in local communities.

Her work finds that the central-eastern zone of the Chicot Aquifer in southwest Louisiana is a strong candidate for ASR use. In this area, groundwater stress is high due to farming irrigation. A case study in Carencro, Louisiana, revealed that pairing ASR with small-scale reservoirs could provide a flood reduction of 78% or more to local stream systems.

Olivia’s work has yielded two research papers for journal publications. With the support of her research project, she has traveled to present her research at two prestigious American Geophysical Union (AGU) conferences in Valencia, Spain and San Francisco, California.

“From my experiences here, I was able to advance in my communication skills, both in writing and presentations, as well as my creativity,” she says. “These are two qualities that are greatly desired in engineers of today.”

After graduation, Olivia will continue working in water sustainability and coastal protection through a position with the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) in Baton Rouge.

Learn more about the Master of Science in civil engineering program.