Climate change, predicting floods and the impact on people Now Omaha,Published on: May 23rd, 2019

IFC stream sensor used to track flooding on the Poudre River

The Iowa Flood Center’s stream monitoring network is gaining interest across the country.

Through a partnership with Riverside Technology Inc., the Iowa Flood Center received funding and support to deploy a stream stage sensor on the Poudre River in Colorado. The sensor has been deployed as part of a pilot project to improve flood awareness and prediction capabilities.

Read the full story by the Coloradoan, here. ,Published on: October 8th, 2017

IFC installs Bridge Sensor on Cedar Creek

By Mikael Mulugeta

The Iowa Flood Center (IFC) is partnering with the South Central Iowa Cedar Creek Watershed Management Authority (WMA) on a project funded by the Farm Bureau and other local stakeholders to advance the flood reduction goals of the WMA. The IFC recently deployed a new stream-stage sensor near Lovilia and will develop a hydrologic model of the watershed.

Daniel Ceynar (left) helped design the IFC stream-stage sensors and also installs and maintains hydro-metrological equipment and other field equipment used for research. Raymond Hammond (right) supports installation of stream-stage sensors and helps maintains 30 local rain gauge stations, while performing other research assistant activities.

IFC affiliates Daniel Ceynar and Raymond Hammond installed the sensor. Ceynar, a project engineer, and Hammond, an application programmer and analyst, have been responsible for installing sensors on rivers and streams across Iowa as part of the IFC’s expanding stream-stage sensor network.

The IFC-designed ultrasonic sensor measures the height (or stage) of the Cedar Creek every 15 minutes and transmits the readings to a database at the Flood Center. The public can access these readings through the Iowa Flood Information System for real-time stream level updates.

“The more we know upstream, the more we can prepare downstream,” says Ceynar. “The IFC’s goal is to provide tools for the public that will assist them in making informed decisions.”

The Cedar Creek WMA, which formed in 2015, believes the sensor will help alert residents and farmers to potential flooding threats. Linda Shumate, the Cedar Creek WMA coordinator, was involved in choosing the location of the stream-stage sensor and wanted the location to be near the headwaters of the river.

“We were targeting Bleubaugh, a sub-watershed of Cedar Creek, which is up toward the headwater region of the watershed,” says Shumate. “Towns downstream like Melrose are highly prone to flooding, so this is a good precaution to take.”

In addition to the stream-stage sensor, the IFC will work with a local volunteer landowner to install a rain gauge station that measures rainfall, wind speed and direction, soil moisture, and soil temperature. Shumate aims to have more rain gauge stations and sensors installed in the watershed in the coming years to benefit residents and particularly local farmers, who played a large role in the founding of the WMA.

This is in concert with the IFC’s plans to continue expanding its stream-stage sensor and rain gauge stations, so more communities can have access to flood monitoring and prediction tools on IFIS.

“Prior to the 2008 flood, there was no gauging on smaller rivers,” says Ceynar. “The DNR (Iowa Department of Natural Resources) funded the first 50 sensors, and we’ve kept expanding and hope to cover as much of Iowa as we can.”

There are currently 220 bridge sensors installed across Iowa, of which 150 were DNR-funded, and there are plans for 10 more sites by the end of the year. The IFC will install at least 20 new rain gauge stations this year as part of the statewide Iowa Watershed Approach project, which will add to the existing 40 stations already deployed across the state.

Next Wave of Stream-Stage Sensors

by Shianne Gruss

IFC stream-stage sensors have proven they're tough enough to withstand being inundated by floodwaters.

IFC stream-stage sensors have proven they’re tough enough to withstand being inundated by floodwaters.

For Iowa City residents and University of Iowa students, it’s impossible to forget the floods of 2008 – not with more than a dozen different flood mitigation and recovery projects underway across campus.

Luckily, the Iowa Flood Center (IFC) continues to work hand in hand with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to better inform citizens of Iowa City, and countless other communities across the state, of potential flooding.

The IFC stream-stage sensors, an idea pioneered by both UI engineering students and faculty back in 2010, have been an “overwhelming success,” says Dan Ceynar, an IFC engineer.

Of the 100 sensors funded by the DNR, the first 50 sensors installed have been revisited just once or twice for minor updates. The majority of the more recent sites, however, have never required a follow-up visit.

“When the IIHR approached the DNR about the stream-stage sensors that they developed, we felt it would be a great way to see if the information provided by the stage-sensors would fill in some of the information gaps, especially for local emergency managers and having time to respond to a potential flood event,” says Lori McDaniel, supervisor of the DNR’s Division of Flood Plain Management, Dam Safety, & Water Quality Standards.

Several stream-stage sensors await submersion in a wet tank in the IIHR Hydraulics Wind Tunnel Annex to be tested for leaks.

Several stream-stage sensors await submersion in a wet tank in the IIHR Hydraulics Wind Tunnel Annex to be tested for leaks.

The sensors, priced at $3,500 apiece, are a system of electronics, modems, and antennas encased by weather-resistant aluminum and installed on the downstream side of bridges. Each sensor emits an electronic pulse to measure the distance to the water below and sends that data via cell modem to a central database every 15 minutes.

Earlier this spring, about 15 sensors sat submerged in a wet tank, being tested for leaks, in the IIHR Hydraulics Wind Tunnel Annex. With more than 50 more in progress, Ceynar estimates the IFC has built a total of 250 sensors, most of which are the new and improved models.

These second-generation sensors measure distances of roughly 44 feet, 10 feet more than the first batch. The improvement was necessary for bridges more than 20 feet in height. The newer sensors have also shed their radio-like communication capability — a feature Ceynar says went virtually unused.

While the majority of the sensors were installed at request of the DNR, many Iowa municipalities, counties, colleges, and universities have asked the IFC to install sensors of their own — and the list keeps growing. Even state and federal agencies, such as the Iowa Department of Transportation and the National Weather Service, have had sensors installed at various locations.

“I use gauges as one of my agency’s tools to prepare for and predict rising water levels, which in turn causes a list of various actions to take place,” says Larry Hurst, director of Mills County Homeland Security & Emergency Management Agency. “[I] would actually like several more units installed in my county.”

Although the IFC is the only academic flood center in the nation, it functions as a non-profit and must approach partnerships with caution, says Ceynar.

“The IFC bridge sensors receive quite a bit of interest from other states, as well as from other agencies and engineering companies as far away as Australia,” says IFC Director Witold Krajewski. “While currently we have no plans to create a for-profit company that would market the sensors, we feel that our impact would be greatest through some kind of a national or regional flood research center. We are exploring different avenues toward this.”

Citizens are encouraged to use the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS), an online maps-based application, to view the stream-stage information for their area.

Iowa Flood Center to Install 50 New Stream Stage Sensors Statewide,Published on: October 17th, 2014

Raising AWAREness

“It’s easy to ignore a problem if you don’t know it exists,” says IIHR and Iowa Flood Center Engineer Dan Ceynar. Ceynar knows what’s hiding under the surface of Iowa’s rivers, and a lot of it isn’t pretty: tires, water heaters, stoves, snowmobiles, refrigerators, bicycles, bed frames, and more. “You name it, it’s been pulled out,” Ceynar says.

Ceynar has firsthand knowledge about pulling trash out of rivers. He’s been involved with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Project AWARE (A Watershed Awareness River Expedition) since 2006, when it came to the Iowa River near Iowa City. He’s now a river clean-up veteran who brings shovels and other tools to excavate the big stuff out of the mud – such as sections of cars, or, in several instances, boats – including a 17-foot fiberglass ski boat.

Dan Ceynar removes a tire from the river.

Dan Ceynar, IFC Engineer

This year, 388 participants ranging in age from 2 to 80 cleaned up 91 miles of the Big Sioux River, which forms the border between Iowa and South Dakota in northwest Iowa. They removed 28.8 tons of trash (that’s 57,523 pounds!) from the river, including 549 tires.

The six-day project moves to a different Iowa watershed for one week each July, bringing hundreds of canoe-based volunteers to clean up the stuff that shouldn’t be there. The effort is sponsored by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (this year with support from South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks), with help from other sponsors such as IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering and the Iowa Flood Center.

Most participants camp in tents and share evening campfires along the river after a catered meal and educational programs. There’s often music, and lots of low-key socializing.

One of the best things about Project AWARE is its power to change hearts and minds, Ceynar says – especially for kids. He hopes that seeing the vast amounts of trash the clean-up pulls from the river can help bring about a change of attitude in kids and adults alike.

Poisoned Rivers and Lakes

Poisoned Lakes and Rivers -webImagine if people felt free to throw their garbage into your home. Imagine how the swan feels in a nest overwhelmed by trash, or the sea turtle who has to swim through a mass of plastic refuse.

Now imagine we can do something about it.

That’s exactly what IIHR Engineer Dan Ceynar hopes kids will do after they read the new book by Ellen Lawrence, Poisoned Rivers and Lakes. Ceynar served as a consultant on the book, published by Bearport Publishing. Lawrence asked Ceynar, who spends much of his free time on river clean-up events, to fact-check the book when it was still in preliminary form. He was able to provide clarifications on topics such as toxic algae blooms and agricultural pollution. The book is part of a series by Lawrence that includes Dirty Air, Garbage Galore, Global Warming, and Polluted Oceans.

Ceynar says he hopes the book will raise awareness about water pollution problems. “It’s very easy not to care about a problem that you don’t know exists,” Ceynar says. He also hopes the book will stimulate conversations between kids and adults.

The larger goal, he says, is to educate people and ultimately alter behavior. The book’s images make the point painfully clear to readers of all ages: human impact on water quality has been devastating. It’s hard to look at some of these images, but Ceynar hopes kids will see them and want to make changes for the better. “Hopefully, parents and children who read the book will be moved to consider how they can reduce their contributions to pollution and to make positive changes.”

Ceynar even appears in one of the book’s photos himself, piloting a canoe laden with carefully balanced tractor tires, an automobile bench seat, and more, taken at a recent Iowa River clean-up.

Ceynar says he declined the consultant fee offered for his work on the book in return for extra copies to donate as door prizes at the river clean-ups he participates in.

Poisoned Rivers and Lakes is available from Bearport Publishing. You can also learn more about the river clean-up events Ceynar is involved with: Project AWARE, IARVCP, and LWRCP.

Palo Storm Water Management Committee

Iowa Flood Center Director Witold Krajewski and Engineers Ricardo Mantilla and Dan Ceynar met with the Palo Storm Water Management Committee on August 18, 2009.

Palo Meeting on August 18.

Palo Meeting on August 18.