Education

Other states look to UI-based Iowa Flood Center for expertise

Texas latest to visit as the Iowa City center's renown grows

Dan Ceynar project engineer with the C. Maxwell Stanley Hydraulics Laboratory talks about stream stage sensors be design
Dan Ceynar project engineer with the C. Maxwell Stanley Hydraulics Laboratory talks about stream stage sensors be designed to a group of Texas officials during an open house at the University of Iowa’s IIHR Hydroscience and Engineering’s Hydraulics Wind Tunnel Annex in Iowa City, Iowa, on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. The Iowa Flood Center hosted a delegation of Texas officials looking to learn more about how the IFC has helped Iowa become more flood-resilient, and how similar strategies could help address flooding in Texas. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — As a leader in technologies and tools capable of improving flood readiness and resiliency, the University of Iowa-based Iowa Flood Center this week welcomed a delegation from the nation’s largest contiguous state wanting to learn from the flood preparation path Iowa has forged.

“Iowa really knows,” said Sam Marie Hermitte, with the Texas Water Development Board, during an open house Wednesday inside the Iowa Flood Center. “They’ve modeled and mapped the state, they have great data visualization tools, and they have really effective outreach and communication. To really have a complete flood approach, you have to do all of those things.”

Texas is the largest state so far to send a group to Iowa to learn from its decade-old flood center. North Carolina has visited too, and a group from Australia extended an unrelated trip so it could squeeze in a stop to the UI center, according to Director Witold F. Krajewski.

“We are flattered by the fact that they want to learn from us,” Krajewski said. “And we are sharing everything that we have learned here, everything that we have done here. And they have to do that translation — how all this is relevant to them.”

Noting the flood center’s reputation as a leader in field, Krajewski said his group also has received calls from “the East Coast, from the south, many people know about us.”

“We’ve had many conversations, including with legislators from some Eastern states, and certainly the neighboring states,” he said. “We visited people in Missouri. We organized a flood-related workshop in Nebraska.”

The question Krajewski said he gets is: Why not replicate the Iowa center in neighboring states or even across the region or country?

“Well, because our funding comes from the people of Iowa,” he said.

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And that funding — despite the reputation the center has earned — isn’t guaranteed. Lawmakers in 2017 threatened to zero out the Legislature’s $1.5 million support for center, which would have effectively eliminated it.

Instead, lawmakers cut appropriations to $1.2 million, a total that has further been trimmed to $1.17 million.

“It’s hurting us,” Krajewksi said. “We could do more if we had a little bit more money.”

Lawmakers in Texas in the last session approved legislation pulling more than $3 billion from a rainy-day fund to help pay for flood-control projects, according to The Texas Tribune.

The bills came in response to the devastating Hurricane Harvey, which ravaged the Houston area and southeast Texas in August 2017.

And, said Hermitte, assistant deputy executive administrator of water science and conservation for the Texas Water Development Board, Texas lawmakers included specific targets and timelines, placing some urgency on that state’s inquiry into what other states are doing.

The Texas delegation representatives have talked with peers and colleagues in North Carolina, Louisiana and California, for example.

But, Hermitte noted, the excursion to Iowa “is the only physical trip that we’ve made exclusively for this purpose.”

And it’s been worth the time, despite the jarring temperature drop.

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“Truly, Iowa is considered a leader in this area,” said Saul Nuccitelli, director of flood science and community assistance for the Texas Water Development Board.

During its two-day visit, the delegation gleaned information about how Iowa created data visualization tools and mapping, among other things, to help the state become more flood resilient. Representatives learned how Iowa communities from the Missouri River to the Mississippi River and between use the center’s virtual inundation maps to prepare for projected flooding — erecting barriers and evacuating communities based on where the center forecasts water will go.

They observed stream sensors and rain gauges, toured labs, and watched demonstrations.

Jerry Cotter, chief of water resources for the Corps of Engineers’ Fort Worth District, said he had been eyeing a trip to Iowa for years and finally organized one.

“I made a joke yesterday,” he said. “I said, ‘Do Texans really have the resolve to solve these flooding issues? Let’s test them. How can we test them? Iowa in January. If they go to Iowa in January, they have resolve.’”

In the Iowa Flood Center’s drive to continue advancing its mission, Krajewski said, it’s been eyeing collaboration in a regional partnership with states like Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas and Illinois, among others.

By pooling resources, he said, the states could become better prepared for flood events that have increased in frequency.

“There is always something somewhere — and the projections are that things will not really get much better, especially in the upper Midwest,” he said. “So by organizing a regional center, we would complement the expertise that we have here, and we could leverage that and do bigger and better you know things.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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