‘Better and Stronger’: Iowa and North Carolina Exchange Flood-Resiliency Information

North Carolina mayor stands in front of a corn field
IFC Director Witold Krajewski in a shirt and tie shakes hands.

Iowa Flood Center Director Witold Krajewski greets a visitor from North Carolina.

Just a week before Hurricane Dorian brought flooding to parts of North Carolina, IIHR and the Iowa Flood Center (IFC) hosted a group of North Carolina farmers, scientists, conservation professionals, and elected officials who had come to learn about Iowa’s efforts to become more flood-resilient.

 

Flooding has hammered North Carolina in recent years, and residents are “tired of bouncing back,” according to Will McDow, a representative of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which co-sponsored the event with IFC. Far better, McDow said, to “bounce forward” toward a more flood-resilient future.

With that in mind, the August 28–29 exchange featured presentations from IFC co-founders Witold Krajewski and Larry Weber, a tour of Cedar Rapids flood protection infrastructure, and presentations from Cedar Rapids city officials about the community’s response to the destructive flood of 2008.

 

Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz told the group, “We are in many ways better and stronger” after the flood. Cedar Rapids approached flood recovery with a “people first” philosophy that helped residents stay in the community while rebuilding in a way that is smarter, safer, and more sustainable.

The tour group visited sites around Cedar Rapids including this flood control structure/amphitheatre.

The visit included a tour of Cedar Rapids’ flood control structures, including the McGrath Amphitheatre. Removable flood wall sections can be fitted into the arches.

The visitors from North Carolina also learned about the Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA), a $97 million, five-year project designed to mitigate flooding using a holistic, watershed-wide process. A bus tour included a stop in Vinton, where a future 5.5-acre IWA wetlands will help protect the community from future flooding. “It takes time,” said Vinton Mayor Bud Maynard. “It’s all about investing back in your own communities.” After a brief rainstorm, the bus tour moved on to Rodgers Park, where recently completed wetland and stream bank stabilization projects are enhancing water quality.

 

The group also visited a farm in the Cedar River Watershed to hear from landowners and producers about how they’re implementing conservation practices to help improve water quality and reduce flood risk. Farmer and host Nick Meier is part of the Miller Creek Water-Quality Improvement Project, which brings together farmers to learn from each other about how conservation practices can enhance soil health and water quality. Miller Creek project coordinator Clark Porter moderated a panel discussion focusing on practical steps farmers can implement in difficult economic times.  Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioner Jeri Thornsberry told the audience, “We’re in this for the long haul.”

Group photo of North Carolina and Iowa representatives in front of cornfield.

Nick Meier’s cornfield provided the backdrop for this group photo of the Iowa and North Carolina groups that participated in the learning exchange.

The tour wound up at Wickiup Hill Learning Center near Cedar Rapids for presentations on financing, funding mechanisms, planning, and partnerships.

The exchange went both ways, and the Iowans learned a lot from their North Carolina counterparts. As IWA PI Larry Weber said, “We’ve got a long way to go, too.”