Iowa and North Carolina politicians pose

Just a week before Hurricane Dorian brought flooding to parts of North Carolina, IIHR and the Iowa Flood Center (IFC) hosted a group of North Carolina farmers, scientists, conservation professionals, and elected officials who had come to learn about Iowa’s efforts to become more flood-resilient.

Flooding has hammered North Carolina in recent years, and residents are “tired of bouncing back,” according to Will McDow, a representative of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which co-sponsored the event with IFC. Far better, McDow said, to “bounce forward” toward a more flood-resilient future.


With that in mind, the August 28–29 exchange featured presentations from IFC co-founders Witold Krajewski and Larry Weber, a tour of Cedar Rapids flood protection infrastructure, and presentations from Cedar Rapids city officials about the community’s response to the destructive flood of 2008.

Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz told the group, “We are in many ways better and stronger” after the flood. Cedar Rapids approached flood recovery with a “people first” philosophy that helped residents stay in the community while rebuilding in a way that is smarter, safer, and more sustainable.

The tour group visited sites around Cedar Rapids including this flood control structure/amphitheatre.

The visit included a tour of Cedar Rapids’ flood control structures, including the McGrath Amphitheatre. Removable flood wall sections can be fitted into the arches.

The visitors from North Carolina also learned about the Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA), a $97 million, five-year project designed to mitigate flooding using a holistic, watershed-wide process. A bus tour included a stop in Vinton, where a future 5.5-acre IWA wetlands will help protect the community from future flooding. “It takes time,” said Vinton Mayor Bud Maynard. “It’s all about investing back in your own communities.” After a brief rainstorm, the bus tour moved on to Rodgers Park, where recently completed wetland and stream bank stabilization projects are enhancing water quality.

The group also visited a farm in the Cedar River Watershed to hear from landowners and producers about how they’re implementing conservation practices to help improve water quality and reduce flood risk. Farmer and host Nick Meier is part of the Miller Creek Water-Quality Improvement Project, which brings together farmers to learn from each other about how conservation practices can enhance soil health and water quality. Miller Creek project coordinator Clark Porter moderated a panel discussion focusing on practical steps farmers can implement in difficult economic times.  Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioner Jeri Thornsberry told the audience, “We’re in this for the long haul.”

Group photo of North Carolina and Iowa representatives in front of cornfield.

Nick Meier’s cornfield provided the backdrop for this group photo of the Iowa and North Carolina groups that participated in the learning exchange.

The tour wound up at Wickiup Hill Learning Center near Cedar Rapids for presentations on financing, funding mechanisms, planning, and partnerships.

The exchange went both ways, and the Iowans learned a lot from their North Carolina counterparts. As IWA PI Larry Weber said, “We’ve got a long way to go, too.”

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Big Sioux River flooding

South Dakota Unveils Flood Information System

By Mikael Mulugeta

In late 2018, the South Dakota Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR) launched an online flood information system modeled on the system developed by the Iowa Flood Center.

The Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS) is the one-stop web platform for tracking flood conditions, forecasts, community maps, and more in Iowa. The newly unveiled Big Sioux River Flood Information System (BSRFIS) is the first large-scale implementation of an IFIS-like system in another state.

The project began in 2016, when DENR officials expressed interest in creating a flood information system for the Big Sioux River Basin to enhance flood response and preparedness. Officials wanted flood forecasting models, inundation maps, and community maps for their system, and cited IFIS as an existing system that matched their vision. IFC Director Witold Krajewski jumped at the opportunity to get involved in a project that would map the Big Sioux River, which feeds into rivers in northwest Iowa.

The IFC and DENR collaborated with RESPEC, a private engineering company, to develop BSRFIS. The IFC completed cyber components of the project because BSRFIS uses most of the infrastructure and code from IFIS. RESPEC and other sub-contractors handled modeling and mapping. In late 2018, the DENR launched the completed system, which includes five community maps, rainfall forecasts, weather conditions, and other features. IFC will continue to provide maintenance support for the BSRFIS.

Following the success of the project, the IFC is looking to pursue similar joint projects in the future.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to spread what we know and take on projects like this,” says IFC researcher Ibrahim Demir, the primary architect of IFS and BSRFIS. “If an organization or agency requests this, we’ll always consider collaborating.”

Krajewski also notes that projects in neighboring states including Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, and Illinois will be a topic of discussion moving forward. For the time being, Krajewski says it is an encouraging development that an outside agency recognized the strength of IFIS.

“I think this project serves an acknowledgement of a job we did well. They recognized the usefulness of IFIS, and wanted a system like it for themselves,” Krajewski says. ”That made us feel proud of the work we’ve done.”

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