Stream Stage Sensors

Stream-stage sensors will be installed on bridges in the Squaw Creek watershed to help develop a flood forecast model for Iowa.

Monitoring Iowa’s Rivers and Streams in Real-time

Iowa’s severe flooding in 2008 demonstrated the need for more extensive monitoring of the state’s rivers and streams in real time. To address this, the Iowa Flood Center (IFC) developed and maintains a statewide network of stream stage sensors designed to measure stream height and transmit data automatically and frequently to the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS), where one can view the sensor locations and data in real-time.


IFC stream stage sensorThe sensors were developed as a student project to design an affordable, yet effective way to measure stream and river heights. The sensors are solar powered and attached to the side of bridges. A sonar signal is used to measure the distance from the water surface to the sensor and data is transmitted via a cell modem to IFIS where the data is publicly available.

Sensor Locations

The Iowa Flood Center maintains a network of nearly 250 stream stage sensors across the state. Support for sensor deployment has come from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Iowa Department of Transportation, and research projects at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University.

Partnership with Iowa Department of Natural Resources

In 2010, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) contracted with the IFC to build and deploy 50 sensors in streams and rivers across the state to supplement the USGS network. The DNR selected locations for the sensors and coordinated with local communities; IFC staff and students built and deployed the sensors and developed the database and a web-based map interface for accessing real-time information. IFC researchers completed the project in late 2010 after several months of work.

In 2011, another 50 sensors were built and deployed by the Iowa Flood Center with continued support from the Iowa DNR. An additional 50 sensors were deployed in 2014 across Iowa with funding from the DNR.

Locations for these sensors were selected in consultation with local governments (emergency management, engineers), watershed management authorities, state agencies, and the National Weather Service.

Squaw Creek partnership with the Iowa Department of Transportation

The Iowa Flood Center received financial support from the Iowa Department of Transportation to install 25 sensors in the Squaw Creek watershed near Ames in 2012. These sensors help IFC researchers evaluate the performance of a real-time flood forecasting system through a dense network of stream stage sensors and model flood wave propagation in the stream network.

Project Personnel:
, Director
, Associate Professor
, Project Engineer
, Design Engineer
, Assistant Research Scientist
, Application Programmer/Analyst
Funding Sources
Iowa State SealState of Iowa
Iowa DNR LogoIowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
Iowa Department of Transportation
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Sensor Development