Major flooding throughout the state in recent years has many Eastern Iowans more in tune with river levels.
The Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa is deploying 20 new, high-tech weather stations statewide able to give a more complete forecast of flood and drought conditions while being low maintenance for the researchers monitoring them.
Jim Niemeier, assistant research scientist at flood center, explained how a sensor installed at the headwater of Clear Creek in South Amana, for example, will provide valuable information for the City of Coralville and other sites downstream.
“A raindrop that would fall on this rain gauge in theory makes its way into Clear Creek and then heads into Coralville via the Iowa River,” he said.
Weather stations aim to capture — for both urban and rural residents — more complete information about hydrological conditions, including rainfall, wind speed and direction, soil moisture and temperature, and the status of the local water table.
Coralville Mayor John Lundell, who also serves as chair of the Clear Creek Watershed Coalition board, said the weather stations make him feel even more confident about the city’s flood preparedness.
“We as a community are much better equipped to handle a flood thanks to our mitigation efforts, but we still need the kind of information that these gauges provide,” Lundell said.
“The technology is just incredible that you can see how the water moves through the watershed toward Coralville via these gauges. By having them in place, it gives Coralville officials a heads up of what’s going on in the watershed and we can use that information to better plan what the effects will be by the time the water reaches Coralville.”
The new sensors also provide valuable information to farmers, which is part of the reason Jared Maas agreed to have one installed on his family farm in South Amana.
Maas, a fifth-generation farmer who is interested in water conservation efforts and has implemented several on his farm, said it has been great to be involved in this project.
“The university approached us... and our relationship has evolved over the years,” he said. “It’s neat to be involved with some of these practices and be part of the development of this.”
The information provided by the sensors, especially in terms of soil moisture and soil temperature is vital to his farm-management practices.
“The sensors are helping us see what we can’t see with the naked eye, what’s below the soil,” Maas said. “And it can’t be any more localized than when it’s on your own farm. So it’s a great tool for us as well as our neighbors. In the morning before we get out there, when we are having our cup of coffee we can just hop on the computer and check things out.”
The new weather stations are part of a statewide network of sensors, including stream sensors, which support flood center activities, including the $97 million Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA) which focuses on reducing flood risk in nine watersheds across the state of Iowa.
“When I first started in 2010 with IFC, there was very little information on soil moisture within the state and we have been working on expanding that as it would be nice to have a sensor in each county in Iowa,” said Niemeier.
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Information collected from the statewide weather stations and stream sensors, along with information provided by a whole host of other water monitoring partners, is available to the public via the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS), an online site created and managed by flood center researchers. To learn more visit http://iowafloodcenter.org/.