UI could house Iowa Flood Center


When the 2008 floods hit, some said there was no “go-to” expert within the state to rely on.

“I think it’s a fabulous idea,” Hogg said. “I think it’s a good thing to do, and in the long run, it has potential to save a lot of money due to flood damage.”

Two UI professors — Larry Weber, the director of the Iowa Institute of Hydraulic Research, and Witold Krajewski, a research engineer — were instrumental in a collaborative effort to submit the proposal to the state Senate.

“The outcome of the flood center will be new research and technology for us to better understand and prepare for flooding in Iowa,” Weber said.

The proposal asks for a grant of $1.3 million the first year and about $2 million to maintain in proceeding years.

The center is a program that will be housed in the Institute of Hydraulic Research, made up of faculty and research staff and will not require a new building.

The research is expected to fill the gaps in flood knowledge.

“Floods are rare events. You have to wait very long to really learn from the data,” Krajewski said. “Current methods are purely based on statistical analysis and these methods are not connected to the physical processes.”

The center will start in eastern Iowa, though the scope of the project is set to expand to the entire state and eventually reach a national level.

“We see the state flood center being a tremendous leverage for us as we’re preparing for this national flood center,” Weber said.

A component the officials are hoping to add for the program is a real-time flood forecasting engine in sync with Google Earth.

This feature would allow property owners to access Google Earth and look at their property to forecast “water inundation levels.”

The goal of Internet-based information access is not targeted for Iowa City alone and hopefully would be used by other small communities within flood zones.

“One of the challenges we have in flood mitigation is that it’s not uniform access to everybody,” Weber said. “Google is the platform — it’s this wonderful technology that is there and any of us can access it.”

State senators will decide whether to pass the grant by the end of April.

“It has been received really well and I think it’s a matter of looking at the costs and determining how we can fit that [the flood center] into our budget,” Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, said.

The center will require several years to be fully functional.

The scope of flooding affects a broad range of professionals, bringing together mathematicians, physicists, and biologists, among others, Krajewski said.

The UI was a desired place to house the flood center because of its resources, some officials said.

“The UI has a lot of expertise in engineering and water management, so it made a lot of sense for the UI to be the center of that,” Mascher said.

The flood center will also be looking for graduate student participation along with UI researching staff. It will provide jobs and many opportunities for students to learn — what Mascher called “a double bonus” — in terms of prospective outcomes.

“I think it’s our opportunity to truly cooperate and learn to live with the river,” Mascher said.

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