North Carolina mayor stands in front of a corn field

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

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.”

Nish raingarden install

Nishnabotna River Watershed receives WQI Grant and Installs Raingardens with Youth

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Youth visiting a raingarden

Rainscaping with Youth in the Upper Wapsipinicon Watershed

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By: Margot Dick, IIHR Hydroscience & Engineering Communications Assistant

When Angie Auel asked the fifth graders of Fairbank Elementary School about water retention issues in their community, they told her about their basketball court. Whenever rain or snow falls on the court, they said, the space floods, leaving them without a place to play. Auel, with the help of the kids, created a plan to build a rain garden next to the basketball court to capture the runoff and keep the court dry.

Angela Auel, Upper Wapsi project coordinator

Angela Auel, Upper Wapsipinicon River project coordinator

Auel is the project manager for the Upper Wapsipinicon River Watershed (also called the Upper Wapsi), which encompasses a large stretch of northeastern Iowa. The Upper Wapsi is one of the nine Iowa watersheds that are part of the Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA), a project focused on flood management and resilience.

As an IWA watershed coordinator for the Upper Wapsi Watershed, Auel works closely with the community. Lately, she has focused on educating fifth graders on stormwater management, including students in Readlyn, Iowa. The City of Readlyn is in the process of building a wetland south of town to help contain stormwater runoff and improve water quality as it flows toward the Wapsi River. A teacher at Readlyn elementary received a grant of nearly $5,000 for wetland plants, which the students will plant once school is back in session.

Education is far from the only job Auel does, though she stresses the importance of keeping people involved with the health of the watershed.

“Once the [grant] money is gone, we still want people to be considering what is going on in our watershed, how we can help slow down the water, and not just push it downstream as fast as we can,” she says.

Citizens of Winthrop, another community within the Upper Waspi Watershed, recently received a grant to help install permeable pavers into their streets, a project that Auel will be helping them with. Currently, water runs off rooftops and onto gravel below. The runoff erodes the gravel into the river and on downstream. Runoff can erode river banks, carry dangerous toxins and litter into the rivers, and contaminate drinking water. Permeable pavers offer a solution to runoff by directing the water back into the soil before it can reach the river. The pavers are porous, allowing water to run through the street and into crushed gravel below, which filters the water as it flows into the ground. Water that infiltrates the ground rather than flowing directly into the river is filtered by the soil, removing chemicals that may have been picked up along the way, especially from rooftops.

From a group of fifth graders to the residents of an entire watershed, Angie Auel is constantly teaching people about the health and safety of the water around them.

For more information please contact Angie Auel at angieauel@indytel.com

UI experts, Dubuque officials improve city’s flood resilience one home at a time

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Phillip Kerr, geologist with the Iowa Geological Survey

New Maps Aid in Flood Management

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Urbana, Iowa — Scientists from the University of Iowa are conducting new mapping of the ground beneath our feet in the Middle Cedar Watershed. Yesterday, watershed stakeholders met in a rural area southwest of Urbana to catch a glimpse of the action and learn about the importance of geologic mapping for landowners, farmers, private industry, land use planners, and urban and rural community members. Phillip Kerr, a geologist with the Iowa Geological Survey (IGS) said, “This mapping is critical to our efforts to solve earth science problems — the information we collect will be used to address a variety of problems related to development, growing population needs, and the vulnerability of groundwater, as well as flood management.”

IGS geologists at the University of Iowa participate in the STATEMAP program, funded by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The program provides funding to states to conduct detailed geologic mapping with an emphasis on solving environmental issues. This type of mapping helps Iowans understand what’s beneath the Earth’s surface, and how local geology affects their day-to-day lives.

IGS Researchers Ryan Clark and Matthew Streeter operate the drill rig.

IGS Researchers Ryan Clark and Matthew Streeter operate the drill rig.

IGS researchers Ryan Clark and Matthew Streeter operate a drill rig that can bore a hole up to 50 feet deep to collect continuous soil cores. These allow us to study soil formations and changes, and how they relate to surface geology.

Besides providing vital information for landowners, agriculture and natural resource businesses, and researchers, this subsurface mapping also supports planning and construction activities for the $97M Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA), a statewide program focused on reducing flood risk in nine watersheds across Iowa, including the Middle Cedar Watershed.  In 2013, the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy identified the Middle Cedar as a priority watershed.  In 2016, local residents formed the Middle Cedar Watershed Management Authority (WMA) to bring partners together to address watershed concerns.  Areas of the Middle Cedar, especially near Vinton, are vulnerable to and at higher risk of flooding and groundwater variability. This mapping will aid in planning and land use decision-making for this area for flood management. In addition, it will help the IWA to identify priority areas for conservation best management practices, such as ponds and wetlands, with flood storage capabilities.

Funding is available for landowners in select areas of the watershed to construct a variety of conservation practices designed to reduce flooding and improve water quality. Participation in the IWA is entirely voluntary for landowners, who get a 90% cost share if they choose to build a conservation practice such as a farm pond on their property.

More information:

Iowa Watershed Approach (www.iowawatershedapproach.org)
Iowa Geological Survey (https://www.iihr.uiowa.edu/igs)

Flood Reduction Practices Eligible for 90 Percent Cost Share

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Through the Iowa Watershed Approach statewide program, qualifying landowners can receive up to 90 percent cost-share assistance to implement small-scale flood mitigation practices.

Across the state, the Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA) is working with landowners and other stakeholders to implement watershed projects to reduce flooding and improve water quality. The program focuses on nine watersheds (Dubuque/Bee Branch, Upper Iowa, Upper Wapsi, Middle Cedar, English River, Clear Creek, East Nishnabotna, West Nishnabotna, and North Raccoon).

Participating IWA watersheds

Participating IWA watersheds

Local stakeholders and volunteer landowners within the qualifying areas will be considered for 90 percent cost-share assistance to implement in-field and edge-of-field conservation practices that offer flood reduction and water-quality improvement benefits. Eligible conservation practices include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Wetlands
  • Farm ponds
  • Stormwater detention basins
  • Terraces
  • Sediment detention basins
  • Floodplain restoration
  • Channel bank stabilization
  • Buffer strips
  • Saturated buffers
  • Perennial cover
  • Oxbow restoration
  • Bioreactors
  • Prairie STRIPS

The 90 percent cost share is a recent increase from the original 75 percent. The landowner will cover the remaining 10 percent or through local match. Conservation practices will meet all NRCS specifications and guidelines. For more information, contact Kate Giannini at kate-giannini@uiowa.edu or 319-335-5233

The IWA is a five-year project to minimize flood risk in Iowa that began in 2016. This approach builds upon other Iowa programs designed to reduce flooding and improve water quality, such as the Iowa Flood Mitigation Program and the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

The Iowa Watershed Approach is a $97M statewide program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The success of the IWA depends on collaborative partnerships among many statewide organizations and local stakeholders who together will carry out the work necessary to achieve the program goals. Partners include, but are not limited to: Iowa Economic Development Authority; Homeland Security and Emergency Management; University of Iowa; Iowa State University; University of Northern Iowa; Iowa Department of Natural Resources; Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship; cities of Coralville, Dubuque, and Storm Lake; and many Iowa counties.

For more information, visit the IWA website at www.iowawatershedapproach.org.

TourWestUnion

Touring the Otter Creek Watershed

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Despite a rainy start to the day, nearly 60 people gathered for a bus tour of the Otter Creek Watershed in Northeast Iowa on June 8. Participants saw rural and urban conservation practices designed and installed to reduce flooding in the watershed.

The tour began and ended in West Union, Iowa, where downtown infrastructure has been upgraded to enhance stormwater management. This project includes more than four acres of permeable pavers for downtown streets and sidewalks placed over a bed of crushed stone. This system has the capacity to manage a hundred-year storm, with no discharge for rainfall events between 0.5–0.75 inches.

BillBennettOtter

Bill Bennett, Turkey River WMA Board member and Otter Creek Watershed Landowner

The first stop of the morning was a large on-road structure east of West Union, one of five built in the Otter Creek Watershed as part of the recently completed Iowa Watersheds Project. This baffle-type installation on a roadway culvert impounds water upstream of the roadway, slowing runoff. Fayette County Engineer Joel D. Fantz told the group that this type of structure is a win-win for taxpayers, landowners, and residents of the county.

Next up, participants saw two farm ponds, which can reduce flood damage by storing water during high runoff periods. Ponds hold back floodwaters temporarily and release the water at a slower rate, lowering peak flood discharge downstream and supporting soil conservation efforts. Landowner and Turkey River Watershed Management Authority (WMA) board vice-chair Bill Bennett told the crowd, “If we can capture the water where it falls, we’ll be much better off.”

Downtown Elgin, set at the confluence of Otter Creek and the Turkey River, recently completed a downtown revitalization project that incorporated permeable pavers into parking areas on either side of the city’s main street. Two riparian wetlands also provide storage for stormwater runoff.

RodMarlattFayetteCCB

Rod Marlatt, Fayette CCB Director speaks about Rush Prairie Wildlife Sanctuary

After an amazing lunch at the Brick City Bar and Grill in Elgin (provided by Fehr Graham Engineering, Turkey River WMA, and the Fayette County Soil and Water Conservation District), it was back on the bus for a ride to the Rush Prairie Wildlife Sanctuary near West Union. The 234-acre sanctuary includes almost 90 acres of native prairie, more than 40 acres of buffer strips, and 103 acres of tillable land. It has never been tiled and contains one of the largest remaining prairie parcels in Fayette County. The property provides wildlife habitat, botanical diversity, and water-quality benefits to the watershed.

Sponsors for the Otter Creek Watershed Tour included: Iowa Flood Center, Turkey River WMA, Fayette County Conservation Board, Fayette County Board of Supervisors, Fayette County Soil and Water Conservation District, Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development, Fehr Graham Engineering & Environmental, and Brick City Bar and Grill.

More photos of the Otter Creek Watershed Tour can be viewed on the Iowa Watershed Approach Facebook page.

 

IFC Hydro Stations Provide Weather Data Farmers Need

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For farmers, timely information is vital. The Iowa Flood Center (IFC) at the University of Iowa is deploying new hydrologic stations that provide real-time weather information that farmers can use. The stations measure rainfall, wind speed and direction, and soil moisture and temperature. A shallow groundwater well also provides information about the water table. And the IFC makes all the data publicly available on the internet.

Father and son Stewart and Jared Maas farm about 1,800 acres 25 miles west of Iowa City. Their home farm is the site of one of the new IFC hydrologic stations. “We try to do everything the right way,” Jared explains, and data collected by the IFC hydro station can help. As Stewart and Jared prepare for spring fieldwork, they can check the online sensor data to learn when the soil is ready to plant, the best time for field applications, and how to plan for changing weather conditions.

“It helps a lot,” Stewart says. One example is the application of fertilizer in the fall. Farmers are encouraged to wait until soil temperatures are 50 degrees F or colder to limit nitrogen loss. Stewart and Jared now have facts on which to base their decisions — a real advantage for big operations like theirs. For Stewart and Jared, the data provide peace of mind that they’re doing things “the right way.”

Stewart has been working with University of Iowa researchers for years. “The university has been really good to us here,” Stewart says. “I’ve got a lot of respect for the hydrology department.”

IIHR Research Engineer, Jim Niemeier, explains the data the hydro station collects

Besides providing vital information for agriculture, sensor data also support IFC activities for the $97M Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA) statewide program focused on reducing flood risk in nine watersheds across Iowa. The Maas farm is in the Clear Creek Watershed, which is part of the IWA. John Rathbun, project coordinator for the Clear Creek Watershed, says that interest in the IWA is growing among landowners in the basin. “It’s really all about building relationships,” he explains. Participation in the IWA is entirely voluntary for landowners, and farmers get a 75% cost share if they choose to build a conservation practice such as a farm pond on their property.

With funding from the IWA, the IFC will deploy a network of 20 hydrologic stations this year. The new sensors represent an expansion of the IFC’s current network of nearly 50 similar rain gauge stations statewide. This growing network of hydrologic stations is helping the IFC reach its goal of 100 stations deployed in Iowa—one in each county. This network will help researchers and stakeholders better predict floods, assess droughts, and manage water resources. In addition, Iowa’s farmers can use the information to support their crop management systems and potentially boost yields.

The Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS) online tool provides real-time information on watersheds, precipitation, and stream levels for more than 1,000 Iowa communities. Data collected from the hydrologic stations can be accessed at ifis.iowafloodcenter.org/ifis/app.

“Farming doesn’t pay very well,” says Stewart. But, he adds, “It makes farming fun, getting involved in some of these things.”