spring flooding

State Senators Propose Disaster Relief and Recovery Plan in response to 2019 Flood

For Immediate Release: April 2, 2019

Des Moines – Senator Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) and Senator Jackie Smith (D-Sioux City) today proposed a $50 million disaster relief and recovery plan to help Iowans following the Flood of 2019.

“After our tour of flood damage last Friday in Fremont, Mills, Pottawattamie, and Woodbury Counties, we feel compelled to ask Governor Reynolds and the Republican majority in the Legislature to provide more assistance to help the farmers, businesses, workers, and communities suffering from the Flood of 2019,” said Hogg, who chaired the Senate Rebuild Iowa Committee after the Flood of 2008. “Based on our experience after the 2008 flood, we simply must do more to keep farms and businesses going while they work to keep their customers and recover from the damage they have suffered.”

“Communities are going to need help beyond what the federal government can provide,” said Smith, a former county supervisor from Woodbury County. “The Legislature is in session and we urgently need to take action to help communities address unmet needs.”

The proposal would use $50 million in one-time money from the $190 million projected surplus for the 2018-19 budget year. The money would be dedicated to six purposes:

1. Small Business and Farm Continuation Disaster Grants: $10 million.

These grants would give eligible farms and businesses who have sustained property damage from the Flood of 2019 and who commit to continuing to employ their employees $1,000 per month per employee, up to $10,000 per month, and for up to five months.

2. Supplemental High Quality Jobs Appropriation for Disaster-Affected Businesses: $5 million.

Disaster-affected businesses are currently eligible for the High-Quality Jobs program, but only $4.7 million remains in the fund for the rest of this fiscal year. This supplemental appropriation would give the Iowa Economic Development Authority an additional $5 million to help disaster-affected businesses. Disaster-affected businesses would be eligible under the current rules for economically-distressed counties, regardless of the county where they are located. Disaster-affected businesses could apply for both the High-Quality Jobs program and the Small Business and Farm Continuation Grants.

3. Disaster Recovery Revolving Loan Fund: $10 million.

This revolving fund would allow cities, counties, and non-profits apply for loans for uses that are not covered by federal disaster recovery funds. These would be no interest loans. They would be repaid over 20 years starting two years after the loan is made. Repaid funds would be available to help other cities, counties, and nonprofits in future disasters.

4. Fund the existing Iowa Flood Mitigation Program for flood hazard mitigation grants: $24 million.

This bill would provide funding for levee repairs and improvements, infrastructure projects, and other flood hazard mitigation projects under the existing Iowa Flood Mitigation Program that was approved in 2012 but has never been funded.

5. Restore past cuts for the Department of Natural Resources Floodplain Management Program and Iowa Flood Center: $443,000

6. One-time appropriation for the Iowa Flood Center/Department of Natural Resources to assess causes of 2019 Missouri River flood: $500,000

State Senator Rob Hogg: (319) 538-2247

State Senator Jackie Smith: (712) 898-0477

Fishing for Fords

Young and Gilles using the multi-beam sonar system.

Young and Gilles using the multi-beam sonar system.

Until recently, finding lost cars was not part of Nate Young’s job description. Yet that is precisely what he and fellow Iowa Flood Center (IFC) engineer Dan Gilles found themselves doing on May 11.

Beneath overcast skies, Young, associate director of the IFC, and Gilles, a water resources engineer, boated up and down the Iowa River, searching for a car beneath the waves. Young and Gilles were responding to a request from Johnson County Emergency Coordinator Dave Wilson, who asked them to locate an abandoned car using bathymetry—the measurement and mapping of underwater topography.

Wilson had previously asked Young and Gilles to locate a car in the Cedar River that had been abandoned upstream of Cedar Rapids several weeks prior. The pair spent four hours using the multi-beam sonar system affixed to the boat to find the car. After putting together imagery of the data and sharing it with the emergency management team, they dropped a floating marker in the water so a dive team could locate it and tow it out of the water.

After their success in the Cedar River, Wilson called on them again. This time, a car had been abandoned in the Iowa River after plunging into the water near Swisher. The driver escaped uninjured, but the car now lay somewhere on the riverbed, the murky water making it impossible for divers to see underwater.

Young and Gilles now took to the water with a complex sonar system, comprised of various instruments. One sonar instrument on the back of the boat emits cone-shaped sound pulses and has a receiver listening for return signals, while 512 receivers listen for feedback and cover a 128-degree range underneath the boat. The sonar makes 10 measurements every second and stitches them together on a map as the boat passes repeatedly over an area.

Creating the sonar imagery in real time also requires accurate positioning. This is achieved by using three different GPS receivers—two that measure the orientation of the boat and a third that records the position of the boat. An inertial motion unit measures the movement of the boat—vertically, horizontally, and its three-dimensional tilt. All this helps the system make corrections to the sonar measurements in real time, so Young and Gilles have immediately reliable data.

A member of the dive team standing next to the retrieved car.

A member of the dive team standing next to the retrieved car.

After motoring up and down the river for several hours, Young and Gilles found what was likely the car’s resting spot near the river’s east bank. They dropped a marker and sent the imagery to the Wilson and his team. Soon after, the Emergency Management dive team located the car and towed it out of the river.

While Young and Gilles have proven very skilled at locating submerged cars, hopefully their services won’t be needed again for quite some time.

University of Iowa seeks big increases for Hygienic Lab, Iowa Flood Center

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Gilles stands with measuring instruments in the water

From the Very Beginning

From the very beginning, Dan Gilles has been there: on the banks of the Iowa River. When the Iowa Flood Center (IFC) legislation was signed in 2009, Gilles was there, entering his first year of graduate school at IIHR. When the Flood Center was awarded the Statewide Floodplain Mapping Project, he was there, accepting an offer to stay on after graduation to help complete the project. Today, Gilles is still here, as the IFC works on its next big venture: the Missouri River Project.

Missouri River Model of flow paths

This model of the Missouri River shows the flow paths in the channel and behind the levees after a hypothetical breach.

The Missouri River Project develops near real-time inundation maps for floodplain areas along the Missouri River, from Gavins Point, S.D., to Hamburg, Iowa. The floodplain maps provide more information on current flood conditions for Iowans living along the Missouri River, many of whom were impacted by historic flooding in 2019.


On a normal project, Gilles divides his time between computer modeling and gathering field data.

“That’s been a lot of fun at times,” he says, “getting out in a boat or in a kayak and using some of the survey equipment.” It can be a nice change from the office, Gilles says, but not always. “When the equipment’s not working or you get your boat stuck, it can be frustrating,” he says.

Dan Gilles and Nate Young in a boat

Dan Gilles and Nate Young taking measurements.

With Gilles’ technical expertise, 33 Iowa communities and sections of the Mississippi River have flood inundation maps that show the extent and depth of predicted floodwaters to aid in planning and decision-making before, during, and after a flood. The maps provide a graphic representation of where floodwaters will go and how deep they will be—a boon to planners, emergency managers, and business and homeowners. The maps are freely accessible on the IFC-developed Iowa Flood Information System web platform (IFIS), and more are added every year.

Outside of work, Gilles has plenty to keep him busy; he and his wife Amanda have four children: a 7-year-old, a 4-year-old, and 1-year-old twins. When the kids are otherwise occupied, Gilles likes to garden or focus on woodworking projects, a hobby he picked up just before the pandemic. He says his current project is a collection of small shelves for picture frames requested by his wife; he has also made a baby gate, a mantel, and a clock.

Gilles and the rest of the IFC team plan to have a working version of the Missouri River real-time mapping system up on IFIS by the end of this year. They are also planning to use the program for future research on the efficacy and operation of flood modeling software during a large-scale flood event.

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A photo of IFIS in use on a big screen

Check out this interactive online flood tool from the Iowa Flood Center

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Libby Casavant stands between two of her advisors alongside a woman who invited them in for tea. They are all in front of a red wall with gold and white decorations

Diverting Disaster

About 200 miles south of Mount Everest sits Bihar, a state in northeastern India with flooding issues that mirror those found in Iowa. The levees running along the banks of the Bihar’s Kosi River are similar to stretches of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers that flank the state of Iowa. The similarities between the two landscapes are part of what drew Libby Casavant, a grad student with the Iowa Flood Center, to her current project—mapping the sediment flow through the Kosi River using two- and three-dimensional modeling software.

A computer model of a river with colors representing depth

Dimensional modeling is useful for determining how diversion channels capture sediment

“One of the major differences is that they have a huge amount of sediment that comes through their river from the Himalaya Mountains, so that’s sand, mud, and dirt, traveling with the flow of the river, and it tends to accumulate in the flatter areas of Bihar,” she says.

Casavant explains that due to the levees on either side of the river, sediment deposits from the Himalayas have caused the riverbed to become “superelevated” above the floodplain. As the sediment rises, ruptures or overtopping of the levees become both more likely and more dangerous. Even small breaches can have dire consequences, as sand and other sediment from the elevated streambed deposit up to several feet deep in agricultural areas, destroying the land’s fertility.

As she continues to work with the Delft 3D model, Casavant has her sights set on the Netherlands, where she has an internship waiting for her. There, she will continue her work with the Kosi River modeling, adding functionalities such as extra channels, dams, and alternative levee locations.

Libby Casavant stands between two of her advisors alongside a woman who invited them in for tea. They are all in front of a red wall with gold and white decorations

Libby spent a summer in India working with IIHR’s Allen Bradley and Sehgal’s Harmanjeet Singh

While working remotely, Casavant focused on hobbies such as running, camping, playing music with her fiancé, and wedding planning. Now that the world is opening up, she says she feels like her personal life is changing again, but she couldn’t be more excited for the re-opening of IIHR.

“I loved getting to talk to researchers that are doing all these different, really cool things in person—you don’t have to set up a Zoom call to talk to somebody,” she says. “Walking by, having those conversations where you can learn something totally new that might be irrelevant to what you do, or maybe super helpful to what you do. I feel like that was such a great asset before the pandemic.”

Casavant also accepted the role of presenting the IFC weather briefing at the virtual IFC weekly meetings during the pandemic. For the first in-person meeting in the position, she decided to make her presentation more interactive with a trivia question and a prize for the winner.

Casavant recently had her first chance to present her work to officials in India in a meeting on the monsoon season flooding that has devastated the country. Alongside her supervisor, Sanjay Giri, she will present flooding research from the Mississippi River and recommendations on future sediment diversion structures.

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