EnvIowa Podcast: Dr. Larry Weber on flood mitigation and water quality improvement projects


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Jenna Ladd | June 29, 2017

In episode 7 of EnvIowa, we sit down with Dr. Larry Weber to learn more about the Iowa Watershed Approach. Dr. Weber is a UI professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Director of IIHR–Hydroscience and Engineering, which is the parent organization of the Iowa Flood Center.

Dr. Weber explains how the $96.9 million project came to be and how it improves quality of life for Iowans while protecting our natural resources and health. He tells of successes the Iowa Flood Center has had with its flood reduction and water quality improvement programs and discusses the organization’s fight to maintain state-funding earlier this year.

The director and his team work many long days and spend hours each week driving around the state to each of the nine watersheds included in the Iowa Watershed Approach. For Dr. Weber, his work’s motivation is clear. He said,

“As an Iowan, I grew up here, I’ve worked and spent my whole career here, and I plan to retire here. I want a livable state in which we can enjoy our water and natural resources, enjoy being in the outdoors, enjoy interacting with the rivers, lakes and streams of Iowa, and, you know, programs like the Iowa Watershed Approach, I think, are vital to the long-term sustainability of our resources in Iowa.”

The EnvIowa podcast is also available on iTunes and Soundcloud, a complete archive of EnvIowa episodes can be found here.

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Nine watersheds are a part of the Iowa Watershed Approach’s effort to reduce flooding, improve water quality and protect natural resources. (Iowa Watershed Approach)

Iowa Flood Center endangered by state budget proposal


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The Iowa Flood Center’s Iowa Flood Information System provides an easy way for Iowans to access real-time flood and rainfall information. (Iowa Flood Center)
Jenna Ladd | April 13, 2017

The Iowa Legislature released a budget proposal on Tuesday that would effectively close down the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa.

The proposed budget cuts would eliminate $1.5 million in state funding for the Iowa Flood Center (IFC), which was established by the legislature shortly after floods devastated much of eastern Iowa in 2008.

Dave Wilson is Johnson County Emergency Manager. He said, “Before the floods of 2008, it was hard to communicate the risk to the public in a form they can understand. Pulling the funding for that project would be shortsighted. I’m kind of shocked they are even considering it.”

Slashed funding would mean that the center’s Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS) would also be shut down, according to a statement by IFC’s co-directors Larry Weber and Witold Krajewski. IFIS is an online tool that provides free, user-friendly access to “flood alerts and flood forecasts, more than 250 IFC real-time river and stream gauge sensors, more than 50 soil moisture/temperature sensors, flood inundation maps for 22 Iowa communities and rainfall products for the entire state.”

The center is also in the middle putting a $96 million federal grant to use through the Iowa Watershed Approach. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Disaster Resilience grant is currently funding flood mitigation and water quality improvement projects in nine Iowa watersheds.

State Representative Art Staed of Cedar Rapids serves on the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management’s Flood Mitigation Board. Staed said, “We have repeatedly witnessed the devastating impact that floods have on our Iowa communities and it’s our responsibility as state lawmakers to work with local communities to minimize and mitigate flooding and the resulting damage to life and property.”

The proposed budget would not decrease funding for K-12 education, which is expected receive a 1.1 percent budget increase this year. However, it does eliminate $397,000 in state funding for the Iowa State University Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

IFC co-directors urged concerned citizens to contact state legislators to express support for the continuation flood center funding. They write, “This bill is expected to move very quickly so it is imperative you reach out as soon as possible.”

Nebraska nuclear power plant under threat


Photo by US Department of Agriculture, Flickr

As the water levels on the Missouri River begin to grow, the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant’s situation becomes more dire.

Read more from Examiner.com here:

After the Army released near record water from six major reservoirs, levees have failed to hold the Missouri River so flooding now poses a “serious threat” to Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant according to today’s International Business Times article.

IBTimes Staff Reporter reported at 4:17 AM EDT that “Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant was reportedly very close to getting engulfed by the floodwaters, raising fears of a crisis similar to Japan’s Fukushima disaster.”

The nuclear plant declared the event as “unusual.” Continue reading

Iowa’s rising flood risk


The Iowa River. Photo by Jim Malewitz

Thanks to changes in Iowa’s weather patterns, landscape, cities and farms, some of the state’s most trusted flood prevention safeguards outmoded and inadequate, a review by The Des Moines Register shows.

That includes the state’s system of dams – including Saylorville upstream from Des Moines – which were designed to meet climate conditions and a lay of the land that some scientists say haven’t existed for decades.

That leaves Iowans, their homes and their businesses increasingly at risk for the sort of devastating floods that ravaged the state in 1993, 2008 and again last year, causing damage in the billions of dollars.

The Register report details much of what we have reported here – like that rainfall in Iowa has increased in frequency and intensity and that man-made changes to the landscape lead to increased runoff and streamflows.  Continue reading

A widening scope of disaster


Add seven more names to the list of Iowa counties eligible for disaster aid. Calhoun, Clarke, Dallas, Hamilton, Ida, Keokuk and Washington counties now join 50 others on the July 29 Presidential Disaster Declaration for Public Assistance.

This mammoth list puts the extent of flooding this summer in perspective. It means that more than half of Iowa’s counties have officially brushed with disaster.

According to a press release on Gov. Chet Culver’s Website:

Public Assistance funds are available to state and local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations…for emergency work and the repair or replacement of disaster-damaged facilities.

while:

Individual Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.

Read more information from FEMA.