Globe Gazette: Stream Monitoring System Could Protect Iowans

By James Q. Lynch
Des Moines Bureau

DES MOINES — Witold Krajewski has a vision for a low-cost, real-time early warning system to improve Iowa’s ability to make emergency management decisions protect Iowans from flooding.

Krajewski, director of the University of Iowa Flood Center, told lawmakers Wednesday that Iowa’s 25,000 bridges could become part of a stream-level monitoring system that, when the center’s work is completed, would give Iowa communities more time and information on which to base decisions about flood preparation and evacuation.

Currently, there are 156 United States Geological Survey monitoring stations in Iowa. Each comes at a cost of about $20,000, he told the House Rebuild Iowa Committee.

However, UI electrical engineering students have developed a $3,000 stream-level sensor that could be attached to the underside of each of the 25,000 bridges in Iowa. The units would be connected by cell phone to a central database to allow for monitoring of streams and rivers of all sizes. Krajewski thinks communities would be willing to pay for those units and the monthly cell phone bill for a connection to a central database that could be accessed by Iowans.

In other action Wednesday, the Senate Rebuild Iowa Committee approved Senate Study Bill 3077 to double fines for certain property crimes in disaster when there is knowledge that the property has been disaster affected. The deterrent would remain in effect for three years after a disaster. A similar bill is moving through the House.

Meanwhile, a House subcommittee took no action on Senate File 367 that would have required storm water management standards. Subcommittee members cited a variety of other bills addressing the same subject.

And a Senate subcommittee on Senate File 3089 heard comments on a proposal to require insurance companies to inform property owners of the need and availability of flood and sewer back-up insurance. The bill also calls for disclosure of previous flooding or sewer back-ups when property is transferred. Senators indicated they would continue to work on the proposal.

The stream-level sensors are an example of the role the Flood Center can play in improving flood monitoring and prediction capabilities, Krajewski said. A prototype has been in use since fall and the Flood Center has shared the technology with the departments of Natural Resources and Transportation, which have agreed to develop pilot projects. A preliminary network could be operational in six to 12 months and a statewide network of several hundred sensors could be in place in one to two years.

Krajewski is proud of the work the center has done in the past year and said it’s indicative of what it can accomplish as even more data is gathered. It’s developing flood inundation models in six locations: on the Iowa River in Iowa City and rural Johnson County; on the Cedar River in Waterloo and Cedar Falls, another in Charles City; on the Turkey River at Elkader; and on the Des Moines River in Des Moines.

It’s in discussion with the Army Corps of Engineers to get its data for the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids.

In the next two to five years, flood inundation maps could be completed for all Iowa communities at risk of severe flooding,” Krajewski said.

The maps will exceed FEMA requirements. They will be accessible to the public and interactive, so emergency management agencies can plug in variables — rainfall, inundation, and water velocity, for example.

“We’re talking about doing something the U.S. government has not done,” he said. “We’re talking about moving to another level, beyond the capabilities of the National Weather Service.”

Progress will depend, in part, on funding, Krajewski said. The center asked for $2.3 million last year and received $1.3 million. It is again asking for $2.3 million, but Gov. Chet Culver put $1.3 million in his budget released Wednesday.

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IFC Presentation to the House Rebuild Iowa Committee

IFC Director Witold Krajewski and IIHR Director Larry Weber will present on the Iowa Flood Center to the House Rebuild Iowa Committee on January 27 at 1 or 2 pm in Des Moines.

Weber to Address Rotary Club of Waterloo

Dr. Larry Weber, Director of IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering, will present The Iowa Flood Center to the Rotary Club of Waterloo at the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center on Monday, January 25, 2010, at noon.

IFC Shares 6 Month Progress Report

On January 4, 2010, Iowa Flood Center Director Witold Krajewski shared the Center’s 6 month progress report with Iowa Senator Rob Hogg and representatives from various state, county, and municipal organizations at a Cedar River watershed meeting in Cedar Rapids.   The report details several major projects underway to improve Iowa’s flood monitoring and prediction capabilities, acknowledges the Center’s agency and municipal collaborators, and includes plans for the Center’s future.  The full report can be accessed here.

Iowa Flood Center 6 Month Report

Cafe Scientifique

Iowa Flood Center Director Witold Krajewski presents “River Networks and Floods” at 5:00 pm at Cafe Scienfitique at T-Spoons (on the corner of Linn and Market Streets in downtown Iowa City).

Dr. Krajewski will talk about the hydrologic genesis of floods – “small” and “big” ones.  He will discuss the role of rainfall, soil moisture, land cover, and in particular, the role of the stream and river drainage network.  He will illustrate the talk with results of his studies of the Iowa 2008 floods.

For more information about Cafe Scientifique, go to:

Dry Run Creek Meeting

Dr. Witold Krajewski and Dr. Ricardo Mantilla of the Iowa Flood Center will participate in the Dry Creek Watershed Hydrological Assessment meeting on Tuesday, November 17, 2009 at 10 am in Amana.   The meeting goal is to discuss collaboration of a hydrologic study of Dry Creek watershed.

Mantilla to Address UI Senior College

Dr. Ricardo Mantilla of the Iowa Flood Center will address the UI Senior College in session 5 titled, “After the Deluge: Understanding the Floods and Flood Mitigation.”  He will speak on October 14, 2009 at 3:30 pm in Room 131 of the Pomerantz Center

Upper Mississippi River Conference

Dr. Larry Weber, Director of IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering, presented The Iowa Flood Center at the Upper Mississippi River Conference at the Iowa Wireless Center, Moline, IL on Friday, September 25, 2009.

Sioux City Rotary

Dr. Larry Weber, Director of IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering, presented The Iowa Flood Center to the Sioux City Rotary at the Clarion Hotel and Convention Center on Monday, Sept. 21, 2009.

Old Capital Sartoma Club

Dr. Larry Weber, Director of IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering, presented The Iowa Flood Center to the Old Capital Cartoma Club at the Athletic Club August 27, 2009.

Bettendorf Rotary – Aug. 26

Dr. Larry Weber, Director of IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering, presented The Iowa Flood Center to the Bettendorf Rotary Club on August 26, 2009.