Weber stands at a white board with the Watershed Approach logo behind him

Weber Receives American Water Resources Association Award

University of Iowa Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Iowa Flood Center (IFC) co-founder Larry Weber has won the prestigious Integrated Water Resources Management Award, presented by the American Water Resources Association.

Weber stands at a white board with the Watershed Approach logo behind him

Larry Weber presenting to a group from North Carolina about the IWA program.

The award recognizes Weber’s significant contributions to the improvement and transformation of watershed management in Iowa and beyond. In 2009, after floods devastated Iowa in 2008, he worked alongside his colleague Witold Krajewski (IFC director) to establish and bring the Iowa Flood Center to the University of Iowa. The IFC is the nation’s first and only university-based academic research center focused solely on flood-related research and education. Weber’s vision, leadership, and expertise have helped bring over $100 million to the state through the Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA) program, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and similar programs. The IWA leverages local, state, and federal partnerships to develop equitable strategies to reduce flooding, improve water quality, and increase community resilience to water resources challenges.

A constructed wetland shaped like an "S"

A 25-acre wetland complex constructed in the Middle Cedar River Watershed through the IWA.

The IWA works progressively with agriculture and landowners to identify priority areas in select watersheds to implement flood mitigation practices, such as ponds, terraces, and wetlands, which work to restore the landscape’s natural resiliency to heavy rainfall. IWA researchers use GHOST (Generic Hydrologic Overland-Subsurface Toolkit), a new state-of-the-art watershed-scale hydrologic model developed for the project by IFC researchers. GHOST informs the implementation of the IWA’s flood mitigation practices. Volunteer landowners can receive up to 90 percent cost-share assistance to implement the practices. The dual program also focuses on community flood resilience programming and helps protect vulnerable populations from flooding. By the program’s sunset in 2022, nearly 800 conservation practices will have been installed and over $30 million allocated for conservation.

“I’m incredibly proud of the work that’s been accomplished through the IWA, and I’m happy to accept this award on behalf of everyone who has contributed to its success.” says Weber. “We have a lot of work left to do, but the goal is for the momentum to continue as we move forward.”

Weber stands in front of a podium

Weber addressing visitors at the Flood Center’s 10-year anniversary celebration.

Weber has been instrumental in building and promoting Iowa’s unique watershed management authorities (WMAs) to help carry out the goals of the Iowa Watershed Approach. The WMAs are at the heart of the IWA, bringing together representatives from cities, counties, soil and water conservation districts, and other partners and stakeholders who work together on strategic watershed planning and management activities. The WMAs build local capacity and serve as a mechanism to sustain and advance the goals of the IWA into the future.

“It’s all about people. I will always hold dear the friendships I’ve made through the WMAs with people from all corners of the state,” says Weber.

The success of the IWA depends on collaborative partnerships among many statewide organizations and local stakeholders; together, they carry out the work necessary to achieve the IWA goals. Partners include but are not limited to: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Iowa Economic Development Authority; Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management; University of Iowa; Iowa State University; University of Northern Iowa; Iowa Department of Natural Resources; Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship; cities of Coralville, Dubuque, and Storm Lake; and many Iowa counties and private contractors. These partnerships have evolved to support many other projects built on the framework of the Iowa Watershed Approach.

Weber holds the Edwin B. Green Chair in Hydraulics at the University of Iowa and served as director of the world-renowned IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering research institute for 13 years. He is also co-founder of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, which is housed at Iowa State University. As a service to the state of Iowa, he is a member of the Water Resources Coordinating Council and was part of the governor’s 2019 Flood Recovery Advisory Board. He frequently presents to community groups on water resources-related topics and serves on numerous state and federal agency committees related to water resources planning.

Weber says he feels a deep-rooted passion and commitment to the state of Iowa and its natural resources. “I feel a responsibility to the people of Iowa.”

Riley Post stands for a photo outside

Modern Mitigation

Riley Post stands for a photo outsideWhen Riley Post first attended the University of Iowa in 2006, he was an undergrad deciding whether to become a structural engineer or a high school math teacher. He soon focused on engineering and accepted an internship with the city of Rock Island, Ill. A year later, he began work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), where he learned about locks and dams on the Mississippi River and the movement of water through the Midwest.

In the summer between his second and third years at Iowa, the 2008 floods ravaged the area, destroying buildings and changing the course of his studies. During the flood, Post—who was still new to hydrology—was sent out every night on a Gator to monitor the levees protecting Rock Island, Ill. from the rising Mississippi River. It was during that time that Post started to take a real interest in hydrology and flood events.

He continued his work with the corps for 10 years—switching gates, watching levees, and monitoring water levels in reservoirs across Eastern Iowa.

Post had always been interested in continuing his education, and in 2020, he and his wife both decided it was time to return to the University of Iowa to pursue their PhDs. While his wife works across campus in the statistics department, Post spends his time in the Stanley Hydraulics Lab under the mentorship of Witold Krajewski, director of the Iowa Flood Center (IFC) and professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Post says his work today is similar to his duties with USACE, just on a smaller scale. Here, he uses the IFC’s Hillslope Link Model (HLM) to simulate riverine flooding and the distribution of water to farm ponds and wetlands in an effort to manage flooding in Iowa.

A river model of Soap Creek watershed and simulated streamflowIn these models, gauges at each basin would allow hydrologists and engineers to constantly monitor the water levels. They can then remotely manipulate outlet gates to store and release water. Each reservoir has a target water level to maintain that both holds enough water to supply users downstream during a drought and keeps levels low enough that a rainstorm would not flood the area.

“It creates a habitat for birds and fish and gives recreation, but also the big thing that the reservoir is there to do is to supply water when there’s a drought and store water during heavy rain,” Post says. “Like the power plant right across the river here, Iowa City’s drinking water has intakes, and those types of things that rely on steady supply from the reservoir.”

Post says his work is not to eliminate flooding but rather to prove the efficacy of a farm pond and wetland water storage network to reduce flood impacts. Projects such as the Iowa Watershed Approach are already implementing water storage methods for flood mitigation, but a project to reduce flooding at such a magnitude requires participation from municipalities and landowners across the participating watersheds. The parties involved must agree on land usage and best practices. Post’s research seeks to determine whether actively managing a system of farm ponds and wetlands on that land could be effective in lowering the peak flow along the streams and rivers.

In fall 2021, researchers and students were still returning to in-person work at IIHR, and Post was back on campus for the first time since he returned to the university more than a year ago. He says IFC’s resources for students and the knowledge base amassed over the last decade are remarkable.

“I don’t know that you would find a better place to study flooding,” he says.

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

https://www.thegazette.com/higher-education/university-of-iowa-seeks-big-increases-for-hygienic-lab-iowa-flood-center/The Gazette,Published on: September 16th, 2021
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.

Northeast Iowa Reels From Flood Damage And Afghanistan Vet Recounts The Battle Of Do Ab

https://www.iowapublicradio.org/podcast/river-to-river/2021-09-03/northeast-iowa-reels-from-flood-damage-and-afghanistan-vet-recounts-the-battle-of-do-ab?fbclid=IwAR3q3yOyqv_xwa7u47VtJOXeY14y2sFX1vxxX1IHMZps-uZ1fSK0oTFa1SoIowa Public Radio,Published on: September 3rd, 2021
A photo of IFIS in use on a big screen

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

https://cbs2iowa.com/news/local/check-out-this-interactive-online-flood-tool-from-the-iowa-flood-centerIowa News Now,Published on: September 1st, 2021

Will flooding dampen your Labor Day plans? Take a look at these interactive maps from the Iowa Flood Center

https://kwwl.com/2021/08/31/will-flooding-dampen-your-labor-day-plans-take-a-look-at-these-interactive-maps-from-the-iowa-flood-center/KWWL,Published on: August 31st, 2021

University of Iowa Flood Center offers tool to monitor flooding

https://www.kcrg.com/2021/09/01/university-iowa-flood-center-offers-tool-monitor-flooding/KCRG,Published on: August 31st, 2021
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.

Assessment of Transportation System Disruption and Accessibility to Critical Amenities During Flooding: Iowa Case Study

This paper presents a comprehensive analysis of flood impacts on road network topology and accessibility to amenities for major communities in the State of Iowa using graph-theoretic methods, including single-source shortest path analyses under 100 and 500-year flood scenarios.