Legislature

Bulk of Iowa Flood Center funding would be restored under budget amendment

Educating lawmakers about the value of the center led to reversal, administrator says

Larry Weber (center) director of the IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering, speaks during a news conference that Congressman Dave Loebsack (right) will announce legislation establishing a National Flood Center at the University of Iowa College of Engineering’s C. Maxwell Stanley Hydraulics Laboratory in Iowa City on Monday, June 6, 2016. At left is Witek Krajewski director of the Iowa Flood Center. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Larry Weber (center) director of the IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering, speaks during a news conference that Congressman Dave Loebsack (right) will announce legislation establishing a National Flood Center at the University of Iowa College of Engineering’s C. Maxwell Stanley Hydraulics Laboratory in Iowa City on Monday, June 6, 2016. At left is Witek Krajewski director of the Iowa Flood Center. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

An amendment by the state House Appropriations Committee would restore $1.2 million to the Iowa Flood Center, a University of Iowa-based program previously slated for the legislative chopping block.

“I would say when I first saw that line item zeroed out, it did make me nervous,” Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, said in an email Thursday.

A Republican budget proposal released Tuesday would have cut state funding to the flood center, created by the Legislature in 2009 in response to major Eastern Iowa flooding in 2008.

The center’s interactive online tool, the Iowa Flood Information System, provides weather conditions, inundation maps and stream sensor data. A flood risk calculator and maps show how far and where a river would flow based on the flood stage. Larry Weber, a UI professor and director of IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering, said Tuesday the loss of state money would “effectively eliminate” the program and jeopardize federal money.

The move to restore state funding to the center came after Weber and others talked with lawmakers about what the flood center does and the role it plays in helping communities predict and prepare for flooding.

“Many of the communities and citizens affected by flooding reached out to the Legislature and shared their support of the Iowa Flood Center,” Weber said.

Hinson, who worked as a news anchor, reporter and producer at KCRG-TV9 in Cedar Rapids for more than 10 years, saw first hand the devastation of the 2008 floods.

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“I do know the value of the Flood Center to Cedar Rapids and Linn County, and immediately started having those conversations about its importance to our area specifically with our budget chairs and other appropriations committee members,” Hinson said.

The budget amendment, raised Wednesday night, would restore the bulk of flood center funding in part by reducing the University of Iowa’s general appropriation by $950,000.

“The solution we found was based on trying to balance our priorities with a tough budget year,” Hinson said. “It was also my understanding that the Flood Center was a ‘priority’ for the University of Iowa, which is why we felt it appropriate to essentially have them share in funding it. I’m happy we were able to find a solution within our current budget constraints.”

Weber said the proposal to shift money from the university to the flood center was not ideal.

“Anything that is funded at the state comes at the expense of something else,” he said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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