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.