IFC installs Bridge Sensor on Cedar Creek

By Mikael Mulugeta

The Iowa Flood Center (IFC) is partnering with the South Central Iowa Cedar Creek Watershed Management Authority (WMA) on a project funded by the Farm Bureau and other local stakeholders to advance the flood reduction goals of the WMA. The IFC recently deployed a new stream-stage sensor near Lovilia and will develop a hydrologic model of the watershed.

Daniel Ceynar (left) helped design the IFC stream-stage sensors and also installs and maintains hydro-metrological equipment and other field equipment used for research. Raymond Hammond (right) supports installation of stream-stage sensors and helps maintains 30 local rain gauge stations, while performing other research assistant activities.

IFC affiliates Daniel Ceynar and Raymond Hammond installed the sensor. Ceynar, a project engineer, and Hammond, an application programmer and analyst, have been responsible for installing sensors on rivers and streams across Iowa as part of the IFC’s expanding stream-stage sensor network.

The IFC-designed ultrasonic sensor measures the height (or stage) of the Cedar Creek every 15 minutes and transmits the readings to a database at the Flood Center. The public can access these readings through the Iowa Flood Information System for real-time stream level updates.

“The more we know upstream, the more we can prepare downstream,” says Ceynar. “The IFC’s goal is to provide tools for the public that will assist them in making informed decisions.”

The Cedar Creek WMA, which formed in 2015, believes the sensor will help alert residents and farmers to potential flooding threats. Linda Shumate, the Cedar Creek WMA coordinator, was involved in choosing the location of the stream-stage sensor and wanted the location to be near the headwaters of the river.

“We were targeting Bleubaugh, a sub-watershed of Cedar Creek, which is up toward the headwater region of the watershed,” says Shumate. “Towns downstream like Melrose are highly prone to flooding, so this is a good precaution to take.”

In addition to the stream-stage sensor, the IFC will work with a local volunteer landowner to install a rain gauge station that measures rainfall, wind speed and direction, soil moisture, and soil temperature. Shumate aims to have more rain gauge stations and sensors installed in the watershed in the coming years to benefit residents and particularly local farmers, who played a large role in the founding of the WMA.

This is in concert with the IFC’s plans to continue expanding its stream-stage sensor and rain gauge stations, so more communities can have access to flood monitoring and prediction tools on IFIS.

“Prior to the 2008 flood, there was no gauging on smaller rivers,” says Ceynar. “The DNR (Iowa Department of Natural Resources) funded the first 50 sensors, and we’ve kept expanding and hope to cover as much of Iowa as we can.”

There are currently 220 bridge sensors installed across Iowa, of which 150 were DNR-funded, and there are plans for 10 more sites by the end of the year. The IFC will install at least 20 new rain gauge stations this year as part of the statewide Iowa Watershed Approach project, which will add to the existing 40 stations already deployed across the state.