Coralville event focuses on management practices within Clear Creek Watershed

IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering Director Larry Weber presents at the Iowa Watershed Apparoach Kickoff meeting at the Coralville Public Library on June 15, 2016. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)
IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering Director Larry Weber presented at the Iowa Watershed Apparoach Kickoff meeting at the Coralville Public Library on June 15, 2016. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)
Nick Fetty | June 16, 2016

Officials with the University of Iowa’s IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering hosted an event Wednesday in Coralville focused on reducing flood damage and improving water quality within the Clear Creek Watershed.

IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering Director Larry Weber was the event’s main presenter as he discussed efforts in the Clear Creek Watershed which will in part be funded by a $96.9 million grant awarded to the state of Iowa in January by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). More than 60 were in attendance for Wednesday’s event at the Coralville Public Library including representatives from city, county, and state governments, Iowa’s three regent universities, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), landowners, farmers, and various engineering firms. Weber said he thinks cooperation between public and private entities will be key in many of the upcoming projects.

“It is a great partnership between the public and private sectors. With the federal and state agencies they have a jurisdiction and they have an authority. So they all work within in their authority to contribute to the program,” said Weber. “Then we have the private sector involved through design consultants, engineering services, technical assistance, and what I was really impressed with in today’s meeting were the number of landowners that were here. So there’s interest. We know there is interest in landowners wanting to make their waters better and to have that number of landowners here interested in the program, already thinking about practices they might want to enroll on their property, that’s exciting.”

Jeff Geerts, Special Project Manager for the Iowa Department of Economic Development, answered questions during the Clear Creek Watershed event at the Coralville Public Library on June 15, 2016. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)

The $96.9 million grant was awarded to Iowa through the National Disaster Resilience Competition. The landlocked Hawkeye State received the fourth largest amount of funding behind disaster-prone coastal areas. Weber said this large sum of funding shows the need for pursuing these projects in Iowa.

“It is really interesting especially since this competition was born out of Superstorm Sandy. The largest recipient was the state of New York followed by Virginia and then New Orleans which has been impacted by every landfall and gulf coast hurricane over the last decade,” said Weber. “Iowa was fourth behind those disaster-prone areas so it really spoke to how well the partnership was, how sound the approach is, and how great the ideas are.”

Weber also said that IIHR’s prior involvement in HUD-funded projects made the process easier when pursuing the most recent grant.

“The Iowa Flood Center and IIHR was fortunate to be part of the team that helped to create this proposal and having the experience from running the previous HUD project we knew what the needs were. We needed money for conservation, we needed technical design assistance, we needed project coordinators, we needed the monitoring and modelling and other outreach services that we provide. So when we saw how all of those elements could fit together we wrote a compelling story for HUD and then ended up with a successful proposal.”

Another reason Iowa was successful in receiving the HUD funding was because of programs and other efforts already in place that will contribute to the HUD project. The Iowa Flood Center, the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, the Iowa Geologic Survey, the Iowa DNR, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and other agencies already have programs in place which HUD felt could be further developed with the funding it granted to Iowa.

Coralville Mayor John Lundell. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)
Coralville mayor John Lundell also spoke at the Clear Creek Watershed event at the Coralville Public Library on June 15, 2016. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)

In addition, Weber said Iowa was unique among its adversaries in the National Disaster Resilience Competition because of the amount of local financial support for the practices outlined in the state’s plan.

“We have 25 percent local support of these practices. So think about going to a coastal area where they’re going to build a seawall. They don’t ask the residents behind that seawall to commit 25 percent of the funding yet here we’re building practices on private land for public benefit and we’re getting that landowner to cover 25 percent of that cost.”

Weber credited the Iowa legislature and other state leaders for their support with establishing the Iowa Flood Center and funding other water-related activities in the state which helped Iowa’s case when applying for the recent HUD funding.

“Without that commitment we wouldn’t have had the leverage that we did and we wouldn’t have been successful like we were,” he said.

Wednesday’s meeting was part of an eight watershed tour that concludes today in Vinton.

County supervisors: Coralville lake plan is out of date

Coralville Lake. Photo by Alan Light; Flickr
Coralville Lake. Photo by Alan Light; Flickr

According to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, Coralville Lake’s management plan is in need of an update. They have requested funding from the Army Corps of Engineers in order to research and write a new plan.

The reservoir’s current plan has been in place since 1995, and the Supervisors say that it does not account for new conditions due to climate change. Ideally, local Corps officials would be able to make decisions about water levels without having to wait for federal approval. The discretion to make such decisions without waiting for bureaucracy might have prevented some of the damage done by the flood events of the last decade.

The County Supervisors rely heavily on information provided by the University of Iowa Flood Center (IFC), which monitors local flood conditions. If the management plan is successfully rewritten, the Supervisors could act quickly on IFC information during any future flood situation, and more efficiently handle an emergency situation.

June ranked Iowa’s fourth wettest month in 141 years

Nick Fetty | July 11, 2014
The Skunk River near White Oak in Polk County on July 2, 2014. Photo by Carl Wycoff; Flickr
The Skunk River near White Oak in Polk County on July 2, 2014.
Photo by Carl Wycoff; Flickr

Last month’s recorded rainfall in Iowa was nearly ten inches, making it the fourth wettest month the state has seen since accurate records started being kept in 1873.

The week of June 15th saw rainfall levels nearly three times above average and later in month a Cedar Rapids teenager died after flash floods swept him into a storm sewer. Heavy rainfall led to flash flooding particularly in the central and eastern portions of the state while farmers in western Iowa saw damage to their crops caused by storms.

The Coralville Reservoir crested at 708.2 feet above sea level earlier this week and levels are expected to return to normal if weather cooperates. The University of Iowa has spent about $4 million on measures to protect university property while the City of Iowa City has spent more than $500,000. These figures do not include damage estimates.

The wettest year on record in Iowa was 1993 which saw 48.22 inches of rain. This led to flooding across the state, particularly Des Moines where about 250,000 residents were without water for as long as two weeks.

To monitor weather and water levels in your area, use the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS).

Iowa communities hopeful as water levels recede

Des Moines during the 2008 floods. Photo by Jeff Gitchel; Flickr
Des Moines during the 2008 floods. Photo by Jeff Gitchel; Flickr

Despite heavy rainfall in Iowa over the past weeks that has taken its toll on the state, some Iowa communities are remaining cautiously optimistic that the storm may have passed.

Coralville Lake is currently expected to crest at 711.3 feet, just below the spillway, and the Cedar River is already beginning to recede. Additionally, temporary fortifications along with those installed since the flood of 2008 have lessened damage in Coralville and Iowa City.

However, it is hard to predict whether or not communities are out of harm’s way, since meteorologists predict that next week’s forecasted rain will be localized.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources officials are encouraging residents to be safe over the holiday weekend, particularly if planning water recreation activities.

To monitor weather and water levels in your area, use the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS).


Severe weather and heavy rains pound eastern Iowa, rest of state

Nick Fetty | July 1, 2014
A wall cloud near Missouri Valley in western Iowa on June 29. Photo by Rich Carstensen; Flickr
A wall cloud near Missouri Valley in western Iowa on June 29.
Photo by Rich Carstensen; Flickr

Heavy precipitation and severe storms have caused flash floods, power outages, and other issues as approximately 2.5 inches of rain fell in Iowa City Monday afternoon.

The series of storms – known as a “derecho” – also produced gusts as high as 64 miles per hour which contributed to power loss for thousands in the Iowa City-Coralville area. As of 9 a.m. Tuesday, the Iowa River in Iowa City stood at 22.39 feet. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Monday that it would increase the Coralville Reservoir’s outflow from 7,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 10,000 cfs beginning Tuesday. Efforts have been made to protect various University of Iowa buildings, including the flood-prone Mayflower Residence Hall on North Dubuque Street.

The severe weather has also impacted other parts of the state such as near Fairfax, where a building collapse has caused one death. Search efforts are currently underway for a Cedar Rapids teenager who is missing after being swept into a storm sewer while several were injured during a Cedar Rapids Kernels game last night. Hail ravaged western parts of the state while heavy winds and possible tornadoes hit central Iowa.

Governor Branstad has issued a disaster proclamation for several central and eastern Iowa counties including Adair, Cedar, Guthrie, Jones, and Linn.

For more information about flooding across the state, check out the Iowa Flood Information System.

Coralville Old Town Redevelopment Begins

Photo by AirBeagle; Flickr
Photo by AirBeagle; Flickr

Five years after the 2008 flood, Coralville is finishing the last of its flood mitigation efforts.

Coralville city officials and Watts Group developers broke ground Monday on the Old Town Coralville redevelopment project. The $24 million project will include 154 housing units, 10,000 square feet of commercial space and green space at Fifth Street and Second Avenue.

Head over to the Press-Citizen for the full story.

On the Radio: Iowa Upgrades Flood Control

Preparation outside of the IMU; Photo by Jacklyn Even

This week’s radio segment covers the prevention efforts of a few Iowa cities. Read the transcript below, or listen to the audio here. Continue reading

Volunteers cleanup RAGBRAI

Photo by tkerugger, Flickr

Volunteers around Iowa are making sure RAGBRAI destinations are as clean as they were before thousands of cyclists came through. In Coralville, over 50 people helped cleanup S.T. Morrison Park last Saturday after the riders left town. With this strong volunteer effort it only took a few hours to restore the park to its usual condition. The Press-Citizen reports that the expediency of the cleanup was aided by the responsibility of the RAGBRAI participants:

Kyle Soukup, who coordinated the cleanup, said RAGBRAI riders generally were pretty clean and did not expect the cleanup to take more than a few hours.

“The nice thing about RAGBRAI is they clean up after themselves,” he said. “We’ll go around and get the big piles (of trash). We’ll canvass the park and get the cups. The goal is when we’re done, you can’t tell 30,000 people were here.” Continue reading