Inside Higher Ed: Rising Above the Flood

Here is a portion of an article written by Iza Wojciechowska for Inside Higher Ed highlighting the struggles and achievements of the University of Iowa following the Flood of 2008.

A Flood of Information

Perhaps one of the largest initiatives to arise from the disaster is the Iowa Flood Center, founded in spring 2009 as the country’s first centralized and federally funded center devoted to the study and research of floods.

“If this happens again, [Iowa] will go broke — there’s no way that the state can absorb another event of this magnitude,” says Witold Krajewski, director of the Iowa Flood Center and a professor in the Iowa Institute of Hydraulic Research. “This realization, coupled with the fact that there is a lot of expertise on campus, was a big factor in establishing the center.”

As soon as the flood hit, Krajewski and other faculty members in the hydraulic research institute began to collect time-sensitive data such as contaminated sediment samples and measures of flood water elevation. Jump-started by small emergency grants from the National Science Foundation, but denied a competitive NSF Science and Technology Center award, the center eventually received $1.3 million from the state legislature and, this month, a four-year $10-million contract from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Institute scientists had been studying floods for years, but had never received this kind of recognition until the director of the NSF toured Iowa cities immediately after the 2008 flood. Krajewski says the funding and the immediacy of the situation helped accelerate the transition of the scientists’ work from theory into practice.

To date, the center has laid the groundwork for 50 sensors (at $3,000 each) attached to bridges to monitor water level; developed new flood inundation maps to identify at-risk areas; supported 20 students in their studies in the field; and overseen a slew of research projects related to rivers, flood forecasting and flood preparedness.

Though still in its early stages, the center is gaining momentum and attention. Krajewski hopes it can become a national center in coming years.

“The first argument is that the nation needs a center, not that Iowa needs a national center,” he says. “There were several big events this year alone, and there will always be floods.”


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