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 IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167880914001200

http://now.uiowa.edu/2014/04/researchers-find-changes-agriculture-increase-high-river-flow-rates

On the Radio: Algae blooms present hazards in Iowa waters


A blue-green algae bloom along the shore of Lake Winnebago near Oshkosh, late June 2014. (Rob McLennan/Flickr)
A blue-green algae bloom along the shore of Lake Winnebago near Oshkosh, late June 2014. (Rob McLennan/Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a type of hazardous algae that’s become increasingly common in Iowa waterways. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

 

Transcript: Algae

As the summer comes to an end, late season beach-goers are advised to take extra precaution as algae blooms in Iowa lakes can be at peak levels.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Hot August temperatures coupled with high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in Iowa waterways provides the ideal breeding ground for algae. Certain forms of blue green algae can contain toxins that are harmful to humans and have even been known to kill dogs, livestock, and other animals.

Blue green algae are generally visible on the surface and can give the water a consistency similar to paint. The Iowa Department of Public Health advises any persons to immediately wash algae off themselves or pets that come in contact with it.

So far this summer, Saylorville Lake and Lake Red Rock, both in central Iowa, have reported high levels of blue green algae, and at least six other state-operated beaches across the state have seen high enough algae levels that swimming was not recommended.

For more information about blue green algae, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

http://iaenvironment.wordpress.com/2013/07/25/late-summer-is-peak-season-for-harmful-algae-iowans-encouraged-to-stay-safe-at-area-lakes/

http://www.idph.state.ia.us/eh/common/pdf/env/algae_factsheet.pdf

http://www.iowadnr.gov/Recreation/BeachMonitoring.aspx

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

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.