On The Radio – Iowa congressman calls for National Flood Center


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Iowa Representative Dave Loebsack proposes the establishment of National Flood Center at a press conference in June of 2016. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | July 25, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment covers congressman Dave Loebsack’s proposal of a National Flood Center last month.

Transcript: Iowa congressman Dave Loebsack proposed the establishment of a National Flood Center during a stop in Iowa City last month.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Representative Loebsack made the announcement at the University of Iowa’s Stanley Hydraulics Laboratory on the eve of the 8th anniversary of the 2008 floods, which devastated much of the congressman’s district in southeast Iowa. Loebsack plans to introduce to congress the National Flood Research and Education Act which would establish a consortium within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to study and mitigate future flooding across the country. While Loebsack’s proposal does not directly call for a center to be established at the University of Iowa, he said he thinks the UI and the Iowa Flood Center already have many of the resources already in place to establish a flood center with a national focus.

Loebsack’s proposal calls for 10 million dollars to fund the center, which he said would be an investment that will save money in the future.

Loebsack:

“Really, I think we’ve got to look at floods in a comprehensive way. I think we have to test new methods and build on promising methods and techniques that these folks can talk to us about so we can better predict and prevent flooding in the future in the first place, and having this national flood center, should we get this legislation through and get it established, I think will allow us really to save lives and protect our families and our businesses and our homes and our communities. And it would save us billions of dollars eventually.”

For more information about Representative Loebsack’s proposal, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Several stream gauges shut down around Iowa


streamflow
The U.S.G.S. provides realtime streamflow compared to historical streamflow for each day of the year (U.S.G.S.)
Jenna Ladd | July 13, 2016

Several U.S. Geological Survey (U.S.G.S.) stream gauges around Iowa were deactivated this month, according to The Gazette of Cedar Rapids. The gauges were initially installed after major floods in 2010 and 2012. Since then, they have cost about 2 million a year to maintain, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Their primary function is to measure the level of the river water and the volume of the water passing through in cubic feet per second.

Many Iowans are concerned about the impacts the deactivation of these gauges may have on accurate and timely predictions of major floods. When recalling the devastating flood of the Wapsipinicon River in 2008, Brenda Leonard, Jones County Emergency Coordinator, says that a warning like those given by river gauges would have been extremely helpful for the community of Anamosa.

While the budget for stream gauges has not been reduced, the cost associated with maintaining them has risen in recent years. In efforts to keep the gauges in service, public and private funding partners have come forward for the Turkey River in Spillville, the Cedar River in Cedar Bluff and the West Nishnabotna and East Nishnabotna rivers near Riverton.

Deactivated gauges in Eastern Iowa include the Volga River in Fayette, the North Fork Maquoketa River below Bear Creek at Dyersville, the Wapsipinicon River in Oxford Mills, the Cedar River in Osage, the Shell Rock River near Rockford and Indian Creek in Marion.

Cedar River sees spike in water level and nitrates after rainstorms in Eastern Iowa


(Iowa Flood Information System)
(Iowa Flood Information System)
Nick Fetty | June 23, 2016

Sections of the Cedar River reached “flood level” after heavy rains earlier this week.

Data from the Iowa Flood Information System show that National Weather Service (NWS) sensors near Conesville and Palo detected levels in the Cedar River that exceeded “flood level” stage. NWS sensors use a four-point scale to rank flood severity: “Action Level, “Flood Level, “Moderate Level,” and “Major Level.” While “flood level” typically does not present a serious immediate threat, the system is meant to warn communities, landowners, and others about potential upcoming threats.

Sensors at Palo – which is about about 10 miles northwest of Cedar Rapids – recorded levels that exceeded “flood stage” over the weekend and on Monday but those level began to recede by Tuesday. Sensors at Conesville – roughly 60 miles southeast of Cedar Rapids – recorded “flood stage” levels around the middle of the day Wednesday. Unlike the Iowa River, the Cedar River does not have a dam or reservoir which helps to control flow rates downstream after heavy rains.

Spikes in nitrate levels were also detected in the Cedar River following this week’s rainstorms, according to data from the Iowa Water Quality Information System. The sensors at Palo and Conesville detected nitrate levels 2 mg/l or more above 10 mg/l, which is the Maximum Contaminant Level allowed for drinking water as established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The National Weather Service issued a Flash Flood Warning early Wednesday morning for parts of Benton, Iowa, Johnson, and Linn Counties. The precipitation elevated humidity levels across much of the state and a heat advisory was issued Wednesday for Southern Iowa, with parts of the region experiencing heat index values that exceeded 100 degrees. These heavy rains and elevated river levels follow weeks of “abnormally dry” conditions in Southeast Iowa.

Rep. Loebsack proposes National Flood Center during Iowa visit


Rep. Dave Loebsack proposed the National Flood Research and Education Act during a press conference at the University of Iowa’s Stanley Hydraulics Laboratory on June 6, 2016. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)
Nick Fetty | June 7, 2016

Iowa congressman Dave Loebsack introduced a legislative proposal for a National Flood Center during his stop Monday in Iowa City.

Loebsack made his announcement at the University of Iowa’s Stanley Hydraulics Laboratory on the eve of the anniversary of the 2008 flood which devastated much Loebsack’s district in Southeast Iowa. Loebsack plans to introduce The National Flood Research and Education Act (NFREA) to congress. NFREA would establish a consortium within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and include institutions of higher education “to advance the understanding of the causes of flooding, to conduct research on flooding, flood prevention and other flood-related issues,” according to a press release. NFREA would work closely with other governmental agencies including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and build off of research already conducted at the University of Iowa and other institutions.

“We still don’t have, to this day in America, a comprehensive national flood center. A place where we can do so much of the work I think is necessary,” said Loabsack.  “We have a great flood center here (at the University of Iowa). We can, I think, teach so much of the rest of the country what we’ve found here at this flood center.”

While Loabsack’s proposal does not directly call for the center to be established at the University of Iowa, he said he would welcome the idea of establishing it on the campus of Iowa’s oldest public university.

“I’d be more than happy if this is where it ended up being. I’d be totally delighted because there’s been more work done here than just about anywhere else in the country on these issues,” he said.

Rep. Dave Loebsack. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)
Rep. Dave Loebsack. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)

Bipartisan cooperation during flood events was a theme throughout Loebsack’s roughly 10-minute presentation. Loebsack – the lone Democrat in Iowa’s congressional delegation – discussed working with Republican Senator Chuck Grassley in 2008 to bring more than $4 billion in tax relief to residents and businesses following the historic flooding. The congressman also discussed how he gave former President George W. Bush an aerial tour of the disaster zone on Air Force One. He even worked with fellow congressman Steve King, who represents Loebsack’s hometown of Sioux City in Iowa’s fourth congressional district, when flooding occurred along the Missouri River.

“I called Steve King and talked to him for 25 minutes and I said ‘Steve, my office has institutional experience. We will do everything we can to help you in your congressional district,'” Loebsack said. “Steve and I don’t see eye-to-eye on very much as you all know politically and on policy, but this is something that could bring us together.”

Loebsack said the $10 million his legislation requested for funding the National Flood Center would be an investment that would save money in the future. The center would also build off of research and monitoring techniques that are already in place.

“I think we’ve got to look at flooding in a comprehensive way. I think we have to test new methods and build on promising methods and techniques so we can better predict and prevent flooding in the first place,” said Loebsack. “Having this national flood center, should we get this legislation through and get this established, I think will allow us to save lives and protect our families and our businesses and our homes and our communities. It would save us billions of dollars eventually down the road.”

Iowa Flood Center Director Witold Krajewski presents at Stanley Hydraulics Laboratory on June 6, 2016. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)

In addition to Loebsack, Monday’s event also featured presentations Iowa Flood Center Director Witold Krajewski and IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering Director Larry Weber. Weber, who also serves on the faculty of the UI’s College of Engineering, said that IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering has deployed about 230 stream-gauge sensors to monitor Iowa waterways not just for flooding but also water quality and other measures. He also discussed mapping models the center has developed to help the public better prepare for and mitigate future flood events.

“Today as we look forward to the work that we’re doing we continue to advance the technology and the flood forecasting system we have for the state but we’re also working toward creating better community resilience and how we better prepare our communities for the disasters that we haven’t yet seen,” Weber said.

These efforts led to the state of Iowa being award more than $96 million from Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as part of the National Disaster Resilience Competition. Much like Loebsack’s presentation focused on cooperation across political lines, Weber discussed collaboration between rural and urban Iowans on flood-related projects and research.

IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering Director Larry Weber presents at Stanley Hydraulics Laboratory on June 6, 2016. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)

“It’s becoming an example across the country for how rural residents work with urban communities to reduce flooding, to hold that water back on private lands for public benefit and really bringing that partnership together,” Weber said.

Based on the resources available and the infrastructure put in place by IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering, Weber said he is eager to do what he and his center can to make Loebsack’s proposal a reality.

“We stand ready to help, we stand ready to serve, and so we’re excited about this opportunity.”

Also check out coverage of Monday’s event from the Iowa City Press-Citizen and the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

On The Radio – Attributing extreme weather to climate change


An aerial shot of the 2008 flood along the Iowa River in Iowa City. (Tom Jorgensen/University of Iowa Libraries)
An aerial shot of flooding along the Iowa River just south of the University of Iowa campus in 2008. (Tom Jorgensen/University of Iowa Libraries)
Nick Fetty | May 2, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at a recent study that examines how climate change affects extreme weather events such as floods and droughts.

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Transcript: Attributing extreme weather to climate change

Scientists are becoming increasingly confident attributing extreme weather events to human-caused climate change.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

A March study led by The National Academy of Sciences concludes that scientists are more able to determine how climate change affects the intensity and likelihood of some extreme weather events like floods and droughts. Extreme event attribution, a relatively new science according to the study, has made rapid advancements in the last ten years.

After extreme weather events like the record-breaking precipitation Iowans experienced in the winter of 2015, scientists are often asked if these events can be attributed to climate change. While few if any phenomena can be explained by climate change alone, scientists are now better able to determine how much of an effect climate change may have.

For more information about the study and climate modeling, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Iowa receives additional federal flood funding


A flooded field during the flood of 2008 ( Joe Germuska / Flickr)
A flooded field during the flood of 2008 ( Joe Germuska / Flickr)

A United States Department of Housing and Urban Development grant will help make Iowa better prepared for flooding and nutrient reduction, according to a report in The Gazette.

New funding from the National Disaster Resilience Competition totaling almost $97 million will help watersheds form Watershed Management Authorities. These authorities will develop and assess conservation projects based on needs of the community, many of which are rural and have smaller populations.

Iowa received the award in a field of 39 other applicants largely because of the Iowa Flood Center and the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, according to the Gazette report. While details are forthcoming from a Friday announcement by Governor Terry Branstad, counties that experienced high loss of topsoil were targeted for the funding.

Warm and record wet winter reported in 2015


Storm clouds over Iowa during a November system that brought tornado warnings. (Carl Wycoff / Creative Commons)
Storm clouds over Iowa during a November system that brought tornado warnings. (Carl Wycoff / Creative Commons)
KC McGinnis | January 14, 2016

Iowa saw an unusually warm and exceedingly wet winter in 2015 according to a report by the United States Department of Agriculture.

The USDA reported that 2015 was characterized by a warm pattern stretching from August 31 to December 31. During those 123 days, only 25 recorded below average temperatures across the state. Iowa temperatures during that period were 5.8 degrees above normal, the warmest for that period since 1931.

A particularly notable storm system brought Iowa its wettest December ever. A precipitation event from December 12-14 brought an astounding statewide average of 2.8 inches of rainfall. For perspective, this single storm system brought more precipitation over three days than every other winter month in Iowa history except December 1982, February 1881 and February 1915. Combined with a  heavy Christmas Eve system that gave many Iowans an unexpected white Christmas, several Iowa cities shattered previous precipitation records. Grundy Center’s 8.2 inches of precipitation dwarfed its previous December record of 3.74 inches set in 1982, while Des Moines’ 5.44 inches broke its previous record of 3.72 inches set in 1931.

The heavy precipitation contributed to devastating flooding downstream from Missouri to Texas. This continued a trend of unpredictability in weather patterns – which even included tornado warnings in November – aided by higher atmospheric temperatures and increased moisture in the atmosphere, according to Iowa Flood Center Director Witold Krajewski.