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University of Iowa names Larry Weber to lead IIHR
Institute includes Iowa Flood Center and water quality research, among other disciplines
IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa has named Larry Weber to lead IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering, a century-old program that includes the Iowa Flood Center and water quality research.
The decision, announced Friday, brings stability for a laboratory somewhat in flux since the UI announced in October 2020 a change to how engineering institutes are funded.
Weber, the Edwin B. Green Chair in Hydraulics and professor of civil and environmental engineering at UI, succeeds Gabriele Villarini, who stepped down from the post earlier this year.
Weber also led IIHR for 13 years ending in 2017, UI Engineering Dean Harriet Nembhard wrote in an email Friday to IIHR faculty and staff.
“In his time as IIHR director, Larry expanded IIHR funding significantly, worked in collaboration to establish the Iowa Flood Center and the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, and integrated the Iowa Geological Survey into the University of Iowa,” she wrote.
Weber said Tuesday he sees himself as a buffer to and champion of UI researchers.
“I don’t come with an urban agenda or a rural agenda, but I do come with a science agenda,” he said. “As director of IIHR a real important piece of my job is to continue to communicate with our legislative partners about the work we do here.”
A Republican budget proposal in 2017 would have cut $1.2 million in state funding to the Flood Center. A last-minute amendment restored most of the money.
Nembhard in 2020 changed the funding model for IIHR and two other successful engineering institutes, reducing funds by more than $6 million in fiscal 2021.
The UI's National Advanced Driving Simulator and the Iowa Technology Institute, along with IIHR, no longer were allowed to keep the Faculties & Administrative money that comes with grants and contracts.
These indirect funds were shifted to the college, as was consistent with other UI colleges, Nembhard said at the time.
Weber said this week the institutes have lost some funding, but they no longer have to pay some facilities and maintenance costs.
“The hope is that it balances out,” he said.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in April announced IIHR and the Flood Center would be part of a $360 million national consortium to improve flood prediction and water quality tracking across the country.
The UI will receive $21 million over five years to support the consortium by developing streamflow models and inundation maps, as well as sharing expertise about flood monitoring based on the Flood Center’s network of more than 260 stream-monitoring sensors in Iowa, among other roles.
“For us, it’s a huge victory,” Weber said of the funding, expected to continue for multiple grant cycles. “The program stabilizes our direct funding and also provides a reliable source of indirect costs that come to the university, a portion of which will come to IIHR.”
Weber said he anticipates IIHR will reschedule for 2023 a centennial celebration that was supposed to happen in 2020 and again this fall.
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