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.


Iowa Flood Center receives $1M for Eastern Iowa

The Iowa Flood Center (IFC) at the University of Iowa was awarded $1 million to expand flood and drought monitoring, watershed management, and forecasting services in Eastern Iowa through Congress’s Community Project Funding championed by Congresswoman Ashley Hinson and Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

Hydrostation install

IFC Project Engineer Dan Ceynar installing a hydrostation in south central Iowa.

“This funding will help ensure Iowa remains a national leader in flood prediction,” said Larry Weber, professor of civil and environmental engineering and co-founder of the Iowa Flood Center. “We’re grateful for our local, state, and federal partnerships that supported this project and made it possible.”

The Congressional funding supports the installation of additional stream sensors and hydrostations throughout the Lower Cedar River and Maquoketa River watersheds to collect data and monitor hydrologic conditions in real-time. The IFC will develop a detailed hydrologic assessment and online visualization system for each watershed to guide water resource management, planning, and conservation implementation activities. The project builds off the framework of the IFC-led $97 million Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA) program and will bring together local watershed stakeholders to improve community flood resilience and increase mitigation efforts.

“Congratulations to the University of Iowa on its recent award of $1 million to expand flood and drought monitoring services in Eastern Iowa,” said Miller-Meeks. “Thanks to the University of Iowa, our state is better prepared to detect, mitigate, and respond to floods. This funding will help ensure the university’s meaningful work continues.”

“The Iowa Flood Center is at the forefront of flood mitigation and prevention initiatives in Iowa. This funding will bolster the Flood Center’s research and modernization efforts and strengthen their ability to provide real-time information to support local emergency operations in flood disaster situations,” said Hinson. “I was proud to work with Congresswoman Miller-Meeks to bring this critical investment back to Iowa and ensure families, homes, and businesses are better protected from severe weather.”

The funding will support the expansion of IFC’s hydrostation network by adding 30 new stations. This brings the IFC’s hydrostation network to 50 locations, halfway to its goal of deploying one in every Iowa county. The hydrostations measure rainfall, soil moisture and temperature conditions, and groundwater levels in shallow wells. Data from the network is publicly available on the IFC-developed Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS) online tool that communicates real-time information about stream levels, flood alerts and forecasts, and hydrologic conditions for the entire state.

“We’re grateful to Congresswoman Hinson and Congresswoman Miller-Meeks for their hard work to bring this project to Iowa,” said Witold Krajewski, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Iowa Flood Center. “This is a breakthrough that will help prepare Iowans for future hazards, from floods to drought.”

The hydrostations provide critical information for water-related monitoring, modeling, visualization, mapping, and research activities that will be undertaken by the new NOAA Cooperative Institute for Research to Operations in Hydrology, of which the University of Iowa and Iowa Flood Center is a key partner. Additionally, data from the network will significantly support preliminary discussions about developing an Iowa Drought Information System.

The Flood Center expects to begin deploying the Eastern Iowa hydrostation network in the spring of 2024 and hopes to secure additional funding support to expand the network in Western Iowa.

The Iowa Flood Center is part of the University of Iowa’s College of Engineering and is the nation’s only academic research center devoted solely to flooding. The IFC develops reliable tools and information that community leaders, emergency responders, decision-makers, and individuals depend on to help better understand and reduce their flood risks. For more information, contact IFC Program Manager Breanna Shea (breanna-shea@uiowa.edu, 319-384-1729).

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Larry Weber during an interview

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IFIS view of rainfall and flood alerts

Iowa Flood Center provides Iowans tools to prepare for spring flooding

The National Weather Service has shared that the spring flood risk for the Mississippi River is well above normal, and many communities are experiencing moderate to major flood conditions. To help Iowans prepare for flooding, the Iowa Flood Center (IFC) developed the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS) to provide real-time information about stream levels, flood alerts and forecasts, and hydrologic conditions for the entire state.

IFIS is an online tool that provides reliable and accessible information that helps citizens, community leaders, and emergency responders understand and reduce flood risks. The information provided by IFIS can help minimize flood damage and protect people, infrastructure, and the environment. Visit ifis.iowafloodcenter.org for access to:

  • More than 260 IFC-designed, -built, and -deployed stream sensors that collect river levels every 15 minutes and share data on IFIS. The statewide network complements U.S. Geological Survey stream gages by filling in data gaps to improve flood monitoring and forecasting.
  • Flood alerts and forecasts for more than 1,000 Iowa communities, helping Iowans better plan and prepare in advance of a flood.
  • High-resolution flood inundation maps that show the extent of possible flooding for every Iowa stream in all 99 counties. Detailed community-based maps are available for dozens of cities in Iowa (with more to come!) to show how predicted flood extent and depth could affect property and critical infrastructure.
  • A network of hydrologic weather stations that collects data on rainfall, soil moisture and temperature conditions, groundwater levels in shallow wells, and other weather data. IFC will add more than 30 new hydrostations to its network, helping to improve flood- and drought- monitoring and forecasting. IFC is working toward a goal of one hydrostation in every county to better predict floods, assess droughts, and manage Iowa’s water resources.

Building on these tools, the IFC will share its expertise to support the new $360 million Cooperative Institute for Research to Operations in Hydrology (CIROH) housed at the University of Alabama and funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Working with CIROH collaborators, IFC will serve as a key partner to help improve the country’s ability to predict and manage water-related hazards.

The Iowa Flood Center is part of the University of Iowa College of Engineering. It is the first and only center in the nation focused solely on flood-related research and education. The IFC was established by the state of Iowa in 2009 following the devastating 2008 floods to help Iowans understand and reduce their flood risks.

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