IOWA CITY — Iowa has plenty of experience with floods — responding to them, preparing for them and preventing them.
U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack said Monday he wants to harness that expertise to help the entire country.
The Iowa Democrat, with support from staff at the University of Iowa-based Iowa Flood Center, proposed creating a National Flood Center. His proposed legislation, the National Flood Research and Education Act, would establish a consortium within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to advance understanding of flood-related causes, research and prevention.
“Ultimately, we do see our climate changing, ultimately we do see more flooding, ultimately we do see these kinds of events increasing,” Loebsack said, citing the current flooding in Texas.
“It’s not enough just to sit by and watch what happens without trying to understand why it happens,” he said, “without trying to understand how we can better predict how these things happen.”
Loebsack said he doesn’t have a timetable for when the legislation might garner consideration, but he’s working on spreading awareness.
On the eve of the eight anniversary of the 2008 floods that ravaged Eastern Iowa and caused billions of dollars of damage, Loebsack pointed to the 85-year-old UI-based IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering laboratories and the 7-year-old Iowa Flood Center as providing a framework — and possibly a home base — for his proposed national center.
“We have a great flood center here and we can, I think, teach so much to the rest of the country what we’ve found here at this flood center,” Loebsack said.
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The proposal to create a national flood center doesn’t specifically establish it at the UI. But, Loebsack said, “I’d be more than happy if this is where it ended up being.”
Lawmakers in 2009 established the Iowa Flood Center with $1.3 million in first-year appropriations. Since then, the center has designed a sensor network that monitors stream flow in the state; developed a library of flood-inundation maps for some Iowa communities; and started work to create flood plain mapping for 85 of the state’s 99 counties.
Loebsack said a national flood center, among other things, would enable similar research and employ similar technology nationwide by coordinating efforts with federal, state and local organizations. By bringing together an array of experts, the center would ensure “differing hydrology, weather, urban, suburban and rural areas and economies are examined so diverse flood situations are represented.”
The center, which would be launched with $10 million in startup funds, would initiate a variety of policy and practice recommendations for predicting, preparing, preventing and recovering.
Larry Weber, director of the UI’s IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering labs, said he is excited about the possibility of Iowa’s involvement in such an endeavor, adding that the university labs and center “stand ready to help.”
“We have this experience in running a statewide flood center,” Weber said. “In Iowa, with flooding being so common here in terms of natural disasters, it’s a very important task for us.”
Iowa Flood Center Director Witold Krajewski said he sees parallels in the wisdom of creating the state center and pushing for a national one. He’s supportive of such a center being based at a higher education institution.
“Clearly we have many federal agencies that have responsibilities for some aspects of flooding and that even do some research,” he said. “But academia is very nimble and can organize into consolidating the research that our nation needs.”