Rebuild Iowa Office: Working to Recover

RIO Press Release

For Immediate Release
May 20, 2010


Iowans Directly Benefit from Research Done on Watersheds, Floods and Flood Predictions

DES MOINES – Iowans must understand flooding in order to learn how to live with and prepare for floods, said Witold Krajewski, director of the Iowa Flood Center. Through collaboration and research, that’s exactly what the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa is doing.

The Flood Center was created by the Iowa General Assembly and Governor Chet Culver in 2009 as part of the College of Engineering at the University of Iowa.

“One reason for the Iowa Flood Center’s creation was to ensure the best research and scientists stay in Iowa,” said Governor Culver. “We have some incredible resources here, both people and institutions, that can and will lead the nation in flood research and preparedness.”

In the aftermath of the 2008 floods, consulting firms from outside Iowa were conducting flood-related studies for communities and other organizations across the state, explained Krajewski. That means knowledge was leaving the state, along with the money being paid to the firms.

“By creating our own flood center, we are able to benefit the people of Iowa through the research being done, and we can continue to build on that research,” he said. “Additionally, students at the University benefit from working at the center, and the money brought in for research stays in Iowa.”

The University was selected as a location for the Flood Center because it was identified as a place where river and watershed research has been done for the past 90 years. Additionally, the University of Iowa is a natural setting for collaborative work.

This wide collaboration with government and non-profit agencies, as well as other universities, is one reason the Flood Center is unique. Another is that research results are directly put to use in Iowa communities. Often, similar research done at universities is circulated and retained at the academic level for some time before being brought to the public, Krajewski said.

“The priority of the Flood Center is to research and focus on efforts that will benefit Iowans,” Krajewski said. “I really emphasize that to my students, and in all that we do here.”

The Flood Center’s Managing Director Carmen Langel noted that students working at the center do hands-on, cutting-edge research, then see the application of their work immediately, which is unusual in an academic setting. It is a win-win for everybody, she said.

Currently, the Flood Center is designing and constructing inexpensive community-based stream-level sensors and soil moisture monitors. These monitoring projects are intended to create data networks which will help scientists and citizens of Iowa see how rainfall will affect areas downstream and ultimately be better prepared for flood events.

The center, working with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, is implementing the first 50 stream-monitoring units this summer to test their system. The Flood Center will be working with communities which will maintain the units and pay the monthly cell phone fee required for the data communication, Krajewski said. The units are powered by solar panels and a cell phone connection is used to transmit data.

“What we are doing does not replace anything that is out there, but rather complements it,” Krajewski emphasized. For example, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) already has about 100 river flow gauges around the state to track discharge and the level of larger rivers in Iowa. The project being tested at the Flood Center could lead to monitors being placed on many bridges situated on smaller streams in Iowa. These monitors would then provide data on the stream levels at each monitor location, resulting in a clearer picture of Iowa’s waterways.

“All these smaller streams feed into the larger streams. By collecting the data from the smaller streams, we can provide some understanding of when that water may reach certain areas,” he said.

The Flood Center is also working on two additional projects. One project creates flood inundation maps for several Iowa communities. The other involves adding soil moisture probes to existing rain gauges across Iowa to monitor soil saturation levels, which play an important role in flood events.

Through these and other projects, the Iowa Flood Center is working with public and private partners to solve some of the important aspects of watersheds, flooding, as well as flood prediction and forecasting. This important work is identifying them as a national leader in flood research.

“In fact, we think we are unique enough we would like to propose a national flood center whether it would be located here or at a different place,” Krajewski said. “Other natural disasters, fires, earthquakes, etc., all have national centers. Usually they are a collaboration among federal agencies and academia.”

“We need to have one place, like the Iowa Flood Center, where these agencies can all come together; where there is the flexibility to look at things more broadly and differently.” Krajewski said.

RIO Media Contact:
Tina Potthoff
Rebuild Iowa Office
(515) 242-5232 (0)
Fax: (515) 242-5006


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