Majority of Iowa currently experiencing some degree of drought

Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | June 11, 2021

Nearly 90 percent of Iowa’s land is experiencing a drought of differing degrees due to low levels of precipitation in May.

32 percent of the state rated abnormally dry, 47 percent is in a moderate drought, and 10 percent received a severe drought rating according to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor map. Precipitation in May was more than an inch below average this year. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources reported on Thursday that the statewide average was 3.71 inches, ranging from 1.95 to 8.53 inches across Iowa. The start of June also saw a below average rainfall, dragging drought indicators lower.

The warm and dry conditions in the last month mixed with a below-average rainfall has expanded the land impacted by drought conditions. Northern Iowa saw drought conditions increase to cover two-thirds of the top half of the state according to the report. Southern Iowa saw similar levels of drought expansion as well.

Current weather conditions led to “below normal” stream-flow conditions across half of Iowa. Several river basins in the state are seeing lower flows, but portions of the Raccoon and Des Moines river basins have “much below normal flows”. The decrease could lead to about 69 percent less runoff than normal at the Missouri River basin above Sioux City, the report said.

As of June 10, only southeastern Iowa is free of drought and abnormal dryness conditions.

Dam modifications may revitalize Iowa rivers

A low-head dam in the Turkey River. (Gordon/Flickr)
A low-head dam in the Turkey River. (Gordon/Flickr)

KC McGinnis | January 7, 2015

Dam removal or modification projects may bring improved fishing and recreation to some eastern Iowa rivers.

Several projects along the Cedar, Wapsipinicon, Maquoketa and Turkey Rivers aim to repeat the success of a white-water course opened on the Cedar River in Charles City in 2011 and a rock arch rapids project opened in the Turkey River in 2010. Rock arch rapids simulate natural rapids using re-engineered or modified low-head dams, many of which have deteriorated over time and were previously not passable for aquatic life, canoes and kayaks.

In addition to becoming new destinations for kayaks and canoes, these projects also remove barriers to fish migration and improve recreational safety. The projects may prevent tragedies like a tubing accident at a low-head dam that claimed one life in the summer of 2014.

The Iowa Legislature recently increased its annual budget for small-scale dam removal and water trails to $2 million, according to a recent report in The Gazette.

Flood sensor expansion continues

A stream sensor attached to a bridge, placed by the Iowa Flood Center. (Iowa Flood Center photo / Flickr)
A stream sensor attached to a bridge, placed by the Iowa Flood Center. (Iowa Flood Center photo / Flickr)

KC McGinnis | October 22, 2014

The Iowa Flood Center is dramatically expanding the scope of its river and stream sensor network across the state this fall.

The Flood Center, which has installed 200 river and stream gauges since 2010, will add an additional 50 sensors in collaboration with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. These gauges monitor water levels in real time and send the data back to the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS), which can be viewed by the public. Citizens, landowners and governments can then use this web-based tool to look for flood warnings, monitor water levels upstream from their location, and see exactly how far flood waters will reach in a given situation.

The sensors, which are usually installed on bridges, measure the distance to the water by sending an electronic pulse every 15 minutes. The availability of such precise measurements has already had a significant impact on local businesses, especially those located in floodplains. The sensors, which cost around $3,500 each, can save businesses thousands more by preventing losses in production and labor during flood season.

Iowa Flood Center staff and students will install the new sensors over the coming weeks. Watch the video below to learn more about how these sensors are installed across the state.

On the Radio: Groundbreaking study examines changes in Iowa waterways

A stream in Story County, Iowa. (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)
A stream in Story County, Iowa. (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)

October 6, 2014

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a new University of Iowa study on the effects of climate and land use changes on Iowa waterways, using data recorded over the course of more than eight decades. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.


Transcript: River and Stream Study

Changes in climate and agricultural practice over the last century have had a significant impact on the flow of Iowa’s rivers and streams, according to a recent study.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Using data recorded over the course of more than eight decades, researchers at the University of Iowa IIHR – Hydroscience & Engineering studied the effects of variable climate conditions and land use on Iowa’s Raccoon River watershed, which has been monitored almost daily since 1927.

The number of acres used to grow corn and soybeans roughly doubled over the last 100 years. The study found that these climate and land use changes exacerbate the effects of both high and low precipitation periods on river and stream levels by as much as seven times, increasing the likelihood of disastrous floods during wet seasons and empty waterways during dry seasons.

For more information about climate, land use and river levels, visit

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

On the Radio: Nutrient Management Research

Photo courtesy of Adrianne Behning Photography; Flickr

This week’s On the Radio segment covers research happening at the University of Iowa that looks into contaminant behaviors throughout watersheds. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Continue reading

Advocates urge safer and cleaner drinking water in Iowa

Photo by instory_fan; Flickr

A campaign for cleaner water took place in Des Moines on Tuesday urging the state to take  mandated actions to reduce water pollution in some Iowa rivers with high nitrate levels. Continue reading

Iowa Flood Center expands stream sensor network

The Iowa River. Photo by Alan Light, Flickr.

The Iowa Flood Center has utilized the state’s unusually mild start to winter by installing an additional 50 electronic stream stage sensors across Iowa.

These sensors, 100 of which have been installed throughout the state, use sonar to measure the distance to the water’s surface and determine water levels. They then report this data to the Flood Center’s headquarters at the University of Iowa every 15 minutes.

This data allows for real-time monitoring of water levels in Iowa’s rivers and streams, thus improving the center’s ability to predict flooding.

Check out the data produced by these sensors at the Iowa Flood Information System website, which provides a detailed map of Iowa flood conditions, along with forecasts, visualizations, inundation maps, and other flood related information.

For more information on the Iowa Flood Center’s Steam Stage Sensor Program, visit the center’s website here.