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.

Senator Ernst and Maas Family

Senator Ernst Visits Iowa County Farm to Learn About IWA

Iowans love to talk about the weather, and there was plenty of weather to talk about when U.S. Senator Joni Ernst visited the Maas Family farm near Williamsburg recently. Despite strong winds and a chance of rain, Ernst came to learn more about the Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA). IWA is a five-year, $96.9M project designed to make Iowa more flood-resilient by working with volunteer landowners within watershed communities, building conservation practices to help restore the landscape’s natural resilience to floods.

Ernst and about 30 others — representing local government, watershed management authorities, landowners, the Iowa Flood Center (IFC), and more — gathered in the Maas shop before heading out to see the IWA hydrostation installed on the property.

IWA Clear Creek Watershed Project Coordinator John Rathbun welcomed the crowd to the Maas farm. By the end of the IWA project next year, Rathbun expects to see 70 completed conservation practices (such as farm ponds, wetlands, and more) in the Clear Creek watershed. Once installed, the practices will slow down the flow of stormwater through the basin, temporarily holding back 61-acre feet of runoff and reducing downstream flooding.

Larry Weber and Senator Joni Ernst

Left to right: Clear Watershed Coalition Board Chair John Gahring, Iowa Flood Center Co-founder Larry Weber, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst, and Clear Creek Watershed Project Coordinator John Rathbun.

Iowa County Supervisor John Gahring chairs the Clear Creek Watershed coalition. “It’s been a phenomenal project,” he said, one that brought $2M to Iowa County. He spoke warmly of the IFC staff who have shared their expertise and data with local groups. “I can’t tell you the impact on our community,” he said.

IWA Project Lead Larry Weber, co-founder of the Iowa Flood Center spoke about his vision for a rural/urban watershed project that would bring people together within a watershed to build community and improve flood resiliency.

“This is what good looks like,” Weber said, as he gestured to the diverse group around him. IWA has defined such efforts for the nation, he said, attracting groups from other states to Iowa to learn about the project and to study how they might emulate it in their own states.

But the work here in Iowa isn’t done, Weber noted – Iowa would benefit from another similar project. Weber said that landowner interest in the program far outweighs the resources available through IWA. “There’s an opportunity there to work with those landowners,” Weber said. “We need to figure out how to carry this thing forward.”

Farmer and landowner Jared Maas shared his desire to preserve and maintain his farm for future generations. “We want to keep our ground here,” he said. “Not send it down the river.”

Ernst praised the IWA and the “big benefits” it has brought to Iowa, including flood mitigation, nutrient management, improved soil health, enhanced ecosystems, habitat for wildlife, and more. And, she added, it’s not just Iowa that can benefit from such efforts — it could also help meet a nationwide need.

This is important work, Ernst concluded. How do we collaborate and make sure that these efforts are continually moving forward, not just in Iowa, but across the country?

With the remarks concluded, everyone jumped into their vehicles to drive out to the IWA hydrostation on the Maas property. The hydrostation is one of 20 deployed statewide to provide real-time weather information that farmers can use. The stations measure rainfall, wind speed and direction, and soil moisture and temperature. A shallow groundwater well also provides information about the water table. And the IFC makes all the data publicly available on the internet through its Iowa Flood Information System.

Father and son Stewart and Jared Maas farm about 1,800 acres 25 miles west of Iowa City. “We try to do everything the right way,” Jared explained, and data collected by the IFC hydrostation can help. As Stewart and Jared prepare for spring fieldwork, they can check the online sensor data to learn when the soil is ready to plant, the best time for field applications, and how to plan for changing weather conditions.

“It helps a lot,” Stewart said. One example is the application of fertilizer in the fall. Farmers are encouraged to wait until soil temperatures are 50 degrees F or colder to limit nitrogen loss. Stewart and Jared now have facts on which to base their decisions — a real advantage for big operations like theirs. For Stewart and Jared, the data provide peace of mind that they’re doing things “the right way.”

 

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