Monday, June 5th 2023   |

Water Institute’s president Justin Ehrenwerth dies at 44; memorial here Sunday

JUSTIN REID EHRENWERTH, an internationally recognized expert on coastal policy known for leading the Louisiana-based Water Institute, died on May 11 at his home in New Orleans. He was 44.

Appointed as the second president of the Water Institute in 2017, Ehrenwerth committed himself to protecting the Gulf and waterways across the country, but also advised government officials in Singapore, the Netherlands and France.

Born in Pittsburgh, he attended Shady Side Academy where he graduated at the top of his class and was president of the student body and captain of the tennis team. Ehrenwerth attended Colby College in Maine, where he competed for the Colby Woodsmen, throwing double-headed axes at targets from 15 feet. He became the national champion of the United States and Canada. It’s also where he met his future wife, Dana, on the first day of school. He graduated summa cum laude in 2001, while serving as president of the student body. He next traveled overseas to attend Brasenose College at Oxford University. He joined the boxing team and studied philosophy, politics and economy (PPE) at Oxford, where he obtained a master’s degree.

He returned stateside to attend the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where he developed a passion for civil rights law and public interest. Following his accomplishments on the national political campaigns of John Kerry and Barack Obama, he became a member of Barack Obama’s White House legal team, where he served as assistant counsel to the President.

He took the lead on Deepwater Horizon litigation for the White House working with the Department of Justice. He also served as a member of the Oversight and Litigation group representing the White House in congressional investigations and advising federal agencies on oversight matters. Prior to joining the White House, Ehrenwerth served in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of General Counsel and subsequently as chief of staff to the deputy secretary and acting secretary of commerce. He received NOAA’s Award for Excellence for work in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2023.

He subsequently was appointed the inaugural executive director of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. The council was created in the aftermath of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and charged with distributing billions of dollars in penalties to restore the Gulf Coast’s economy.

After moving to New Orleans, he took on leadership at the Water Institute. He recently received the Baton Rouge Foundation’s annual award for excellence in nonprofit management.

“Justin’s passing touches so many people who knew him well and respected his intellect and boundless enthusiasm for his work,” said Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards. “He embodied the essence of what service to one’s state, community and neighbors is all about and made a powerful and positive impact on Louisiana and the entire Gulf coast. His presence and his work will be sorely missed.”

Ehrenwerth was very happy to consider New Orleans as his second home, religiously attending Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, while joining the board of Touro Synagogue as well as the board of the Anti-Defamation League, where he was an active voice on the civil rights committee.

He was an avid reader and loved walks with his two young sons along the levee near his house, discovering batture encampments. He was a jazz enthusiast and shared his love of music with his boys.

He also enjoyed journeying to far off places, traveling to Bhutan, Morocco and across Europe. He often pushed off in a kayak to explore Louisiana, taking solo trips on the local bayous.

Ehrenwerth was a virtuoso on the harmonica, often traveling with a number of the shined instruments in various keys, and rooted passionately for his Steelers. (Last year he hosted a group from New Orleans when the Saints football team visited Pittsburgh.)

Ehrenwerth is survived by his wife Dana; his father David Ehrenwerth and his step-mother Judith; his sister Lindsey Ehrenwerth Herman (Everett); and his two sons Charles and Louis.

A private burial will be held in Pittsburgh and a memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 4, at Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh. Locally, there will also be a memorial service held in New Orleans at Touro Synagogue on Sunday, May 21, 2023 at 1 p.m.

Memorial donations are suggested to the Anti-Defamation League. Arrangements have been entrusted to Ralph Schugar Chapel, Inc.


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