Iowa Flood Center 10 years later: preventative measures for the future


By Julia Shanahan | June 14th, 2019

The Iowa Flood Center celebrated its 10th anniversary on Thursday, where members reflected on the center’s growth and development since the devastating 2008 flooding.

Larry Weber, IFC co-founder and research engineer, said after the 2008 flood, which came just 15 years after another historic flood in 1993, the state of Iowa began to realize that these horrific floods were not just going to be a “once in a lifetime” occurrence.

“Prior to 2008, however, [the Iowa Flood Center] had very little direct impact in the state of Iowa,” Weber told media and community members at the Stanley Hydraulics Lab on Thursday.

Weber said working with the community and government officials during the 2008 flood was a learning experience for many involved, but that it pushed the IFC to be a more resourceful organization ten years later.

With help from the state and IFC, the University of Iowa and surrounding community had to restore damages in 18 buildings. Now, nearly everything has been repaired except for the UI’s Museum of Art. Construction is slated to start this year.

Witold Krajewski, IFC co-founder and rainfall monitoring and forecast expert, said since the 2008 flood, the IFC has mapped areas around streams and rivers that are exposed to innovation and monitors streamflow forecasts in real-time at about 400 locations across the state – all of which are available on an interactive web-based platform.

“While today we are celebrating ten years of accomplishments, we and the people of Iowa have a long road ahead of [us] to a sustainable future,” Krajewski said, referencing concerns about climate change, intensifying land use, and beginning new approaches to hazard-assessment programs.

IFC members also highlighted the role state government has played in restoring communities hit by flooding. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed disaster proclamations for more than half the state in recent months after the Missouri River flooded in southwest Iowa.

State Senators Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, and Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, commended the bipartisanship in the Iowa Legislature and the devotion of community members and Iowans who pitched in to help in 2008.

Hogg said 11 years ago on the night of June 12, thousands of Iowans showed up to help safeguard the final water intake in Cedar Rapids by laying down sand bags into the morning hours of June 13. He said after an overflow of people showed up to help, some were sent to secure Mercy Medical Center to prevent its bottom level from collapsing.

“I have said since that time that when it comes to preventing future flooding, we need that same spirit of the sandbag that we displayed on June 12 and 13 of 2008,” Hogg said.

Hogg said that today, the “spirit of the sandbag” can be applied to building detention basins, flood-safe architecture, and conservation efforts on farmlands.

South Sioux City to become “demonstration site” for stored electrical power


Julia Shanahan | June 7th, 2019

South Sioux City, located in northeast Nebraska, will become a “demonstration site” this winter for the storage of electric power generated by the city’s 1,200 solar panels.

A large battery, described as a “semi trailer without wheels”, will be able to store 1.5 megawatts of power and cost about $1.8 million, according to a report from the Iowa-based Sioux City Journal. This project is a big step in the field of renewable energy because power would be able to be stored for days with less wind or sunlight.

The report also said that solar energy makes up roughly 5 percent of the city’s electricity usage, and that South Sioux City now gets about half of its electricity from renewable sources, like solar, wind, and hydroelectric power. In Iowa, about 2 percent of renewable energy comes from a source other than wind.

The city hopes to continue taking steps to lessen its dependence on the Nebraska Public Power District, and eventually fully phase out of their contract.

As South Sioux City takes steps toward utilizing sustainable energy, Iowa remains a leading state in the field of renewable energy.

In 2018, Iowa’s 3,400 wind turbines produced 34 percent of the state’s electricity – the second highest share for any state, according to the U.S. Energy Information System. Additionally, among the top five energy-consuming states, Iowa was the only non-crude oil-producing state on a per-capita basis in 2018.

Iowa also remains the largest producer of ethanol in the U.S., producing one-fourthof the country’s ethanol production capacity.

Flood watch continues across Iowa; the latest in your part of the state


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Check the Iowa Flood Information System for current alert statuses. 

Julia Poska | March 14, 2019

While Iowans rejoiced over spring-like weather this week after a long, brutal winter, flooding caused by rapid snowmelt and heavy rains has threatened communities across the state.

Iowa weather services have been reporting higher-than-average risks for major flooding this spring since late February, and many outlooks have only increased within the last week, according to the Des Moines Register. The risk is most pronounced along the Mississippi River, where a Quad Cities survey found the risk of flooding through May to be 95 percent last week. The National Weather Service says flooding in the Quad Cities could break records.

The National Weather Service issued a flood watch Wednesday morning that will last until at least this evening across most of the state. In some areas the watch will extend into next week. Below is information on flooding and alerts throughout the state as of this morning.

East

  • Major flood stage was reached in Waterloo, Maquoketa and DeWitt as of Thursday morning. Moderate flood stage was reached in many areas Wednesday, including Kalona, Atkins and Augusta (IFIS).
  • Yesterday, Cedar Rapids expected a “moderate flood stage” when the Cedar River crests early next week. Officials said this should be fairly insignificant for residents. The city had already reached moderate flood stage as of Wednesday night (Gazette/IFIS).
  • An ice jam raised alarm in Ottumwa Wednesday morning, though it only caused minor agricultural flooding (Des Moines Register).

Central

  • Squaw Creek in Ames reached major flood stage Wednesday afternoon. As of Thursday morning, all areas were at or below moderate levels (IFIS).
  • An ice jam collapsed a bridge in Johnston Wednesday evening. The trail leading to the bridge had been closed prior to the collapse (Des Moines Register).
  • Des Moines Public Works closed parts of George Flagg Parkway and Fleur Avenue. These could remain closed for days (WHOtv).
  • An ice jam in the Raccoon River flooded rural communities in Dallas County (Des Moines Register).

West

  • Western Iowa was hit worst of all. As of Thursday morning, eight communities from north to south were at major flood stage (IFIS).
  • The Boyer River in Hogan and the West Nishnabotna River near Avoca reached major flood stage Wednesday afternoon. A Red Cross station was set up in Avoca for those displaced from homes (kwbe/IFIS).
  • Underwood in Pottawattamie County lost function of its sewer lift system Wednesday. Residents were asked to stop flushing toilets temporarily (kwbe).
  • Harrison County Emergency Management ordered a partial evacuation of Missouri Valley Wednesday night. As of 9:20pm, 2,600 people were underwater (Des Moines Register).
  • Several roads have been closed as well. Check 511ia.org for current closures. 

Take care around even shallowly flooded areas, especially when driving. Remember that while newly-purchased flood insurance takes 30 days to go into effect (and will therefore not help you this week), Iowa’s flood season has only just begun.

Visit the Iowa Flood Information System to monitor current flood alerts, stream levels and rainfall forecasts for your area.

The Iowa ‘sunshine tax’: What you need to know


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The “Solar Options Lead to Affordable Renewables (SOLAR) Act” may not be so sunny (Wikimedia Commons).

Julia Poska | February 28, 2019

The so-called “sunshine tax” might have a bright and cheery name, but the proposed fee could put a real damper on private solar power in Iowa.

Described in House Study Bill 185 and Senate Study Bill 1201, the “Solar Options Lead to Affordable Renewables (SOLAR) Act” would impose an over $300 annual fee on solar customers — property owners with small-scale solar panel setups who sell excess power back to the grid. The fee would cover the cost of using the electric grid and support Iowa’s energy infrastructure.

Currently, such customers can expect to pay off the high initial cost of solar panel installation in less than 10 years through savings on energy bills and sales of excess power. Cedar Rapids City Councilman Tyler Olson told the designated House subcommittee the fee would extend that period to as much as 20 years, as reported in the Gazette. This would greatly discourage private individuals from investing in home setups, which typically last about 25 years.

Supporters of the fee, including major Iowa utilities like MidAmerican and Alliant Energy, say it is unfair that customers who do not generate their own power absorb the cost of maintaining power infrastructure that is used by solar generators.

“Growth is possible when policies allow all customers to benefit from renewable energy,”  MidAmerican Energy’s president and CEO said in a press release. “Common sense legislation focused on keeping costs low and affordable for everyone provides the best opportunity to grow solar in Iowa.”

Opponents say the fee would only allow solar to grow for large corporations, however, and that it would kill the future of Iowa’s growing solar industry, which largely develops and installs systems for private homes, businesses and farms.

On Tuesday, the Gazette reported that the the bill would soon move forward in the Iowa House, to the full House Commerce Committee. Yesterday, the Iowa Senate held a hearing on their version of the bill, and did the same. There is a push among some legislators to delay the conversation until the Iowa Utilities Board finishes an assessment of compensation for solar energy producers next year.

 

Suburban “agrihood” proposed near Des Moines


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The proposed development would feature community gardens and organic farming (Wikimedia Commons).

Julia Poska | February 15, 2019

A tiny Iowa town may soon get an unprecedented expansion. Diligent Development wants to build Iowa’s first “agrihood” on 400 acres just south of Cumming, bringing food and outdoors living to the center of a relocalized community.

According to the Des Moines Register, which featured Diligent’s plans yesterday, over 200 such communities already exist elsewhere in the U.S.. Agrihoods bring the country closer to the city, integrating food production and nature into suburban areas without spreading neighbors too far apart or committing them to a fully rural lifestyle.

The Register reports that the Cumming agrihood could bring over 1,800 new residents into the 400-person town with mixed housing; apartments, condos, townhomes and single-family homes would all surround a large organic vegetable farm.  Farmers would sell through subscription-based services or at local stands, and residents would maintain smaller community gardens as well.

Residents would have easy access to parks and green space too, as the Great Western Trail. The community would also feature a craft brewery, an orchard and retail space.

Cumming is 20 minutes southwest of Des Moines, close to Interstate Highway 35 and Iowa Highway 5. The development would cost about $260 million and is awaiting approval by the Cumming City Council.

Noise from wind turbines poses no threat to human health


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Sunset at an Iowa wind farm (flickr). 

Julia Poska | February 1, 2019

Though many neighbors of wind farms complain that the turbines are an eyesore and that their whirring causes headaches or disturbs sleep, there is little scientific evidence to suggest that the noise from wind farms causes any harm to humans beyond annoyance.

That’s the main message in a report released yesterday by the UI Environmental Health Sciences Research Center, Iowa Policy Project and Iowa Environmental Council. They based their conclusion on a review of two previous reviews of academic literature on wind turbines and human health.

Those reviews, conducted a few years ago, found no link between health outcomes and wind turbines, though they did find evidence of annoyance. The authors of the new report believe that risk perception plays a major role in perceived “annoyance” for neighbors of wind farms. Those that have a negative view of the turbines will be more likely to report negative health outcomes, whether or not they are actually exposed to harmful noises. Those that receive monetary compensation for the potential nearby nuisance will be less likely to report annoyance or health problems.

Nearly 37 percent of energy produced in energy is generated by wind power, according to the American Wind Energy Association. At over 8,400 megawatts, Iowa has the second highest wind power capacity in the nation. Ten wind power facilities have saved over 8.8 million metric tons of atmospheric carbon and provided over 7,000 jobs since the state started developing wind power infrastructure almost 20 years ago.

The authors of the report believe the benefits of the industry outweigh potential annoyances to neighbors.

“Given the evidence and confounding factors, and the well-documented negative health and environmental impacts of power produced with fossil fuels, we conclude that development of electricity fromwind is a benefit to the environment,” they wrote. “We conclude that wind energy should result in a net positive benefit to human health.”

On The Radio- Native American reservations


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Navajo Reservation, Arizona (Alexandra Carré/flickr)

Kasey Dresser| January 21, 2019

This weeks segment looks at the averse affects of climate change on Native American reservations. 

Transcript:

Native Americans are among the most vulnerable groups affected by climate change, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Of the five-point-five million registered Native Americans, about one million of them live on or around reservations dotted throughout the country. Native Americans have long fought against unjust laws, practices, and stereotypes embedded in our society, but climate change poses another risk to many natural resources used by these communities.

In the southwest, heat spikes bring parched terrain, which then fails to properly absorb vast amounts of precipitation leading to flash-flooding. Warmer winters have lengthened the lives of deer ticks and other parasites, leading to a shortage of moose and other game that many Midwestern tribes rely on for food. 

When reservation property is damaged and when precious resources dwindle, there is little that most of these communities can do to reverse the negative effects of climate change on their land. Native Americans are already at a significantly higher risk for depression, alcoholism, and unemployment than many other demographics, and a blow to their land and resources will only increase that divide unless they receive the help and tools they need to battle against these changes.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus dot org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.