Flood Center, DNR Partnership Offers Online View of Potential Floods

Friday, December 16, 2011

 University of Iowa News Release

Floods can strike with surprising speed, and they often occur in unexpected places.

That's why -- even in December -- the Iowa Flood Center (IFC) at the University of Iowa continues to expand a network of affordable stream sensors. Attached to the downstream side of bridges, the sensors provide Iowans with an up-to-the-minute report on water levels in Iowa's rivers and streams. In a situation where information and preparedness can save lives, the sensors provide a vital service for Iowans.

In 2010, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) purchased 50 sensors, which the IFC deployed in vulnerable locations across the state. The success of the project led to the continuation of this partnership, and the acquisition of 50 more sensors during 2011.

More than half of these new sensors have been deployed; the rest will be out soon, if the weather cooperates.

"This is truly a statewide collaboration," says IFC Director Witold Krajewski. "Sensor site locations are based on requests from communities and state agencies. And the people in these communities know best which streams and rivers in their areas are in need of improved monitoring."

Based at IIHR—-Hydroscience and Engineering, a unit of the UI College of Engineering, the Iowa Flood Center grew out of research undertaken during and after the floods of 2008. One of the IFC's priorities has been to develop an inexpensive monitoring system to provide real-time data on Iowa's streams and rivers. Until now, high costs have meant that such gauges were few and far between.
 
IFC students helped develop electronic sensors -- costing $3,500 each and requiring little maintenance -- to measure stream levels and transmit data back to the center. The IFC sensors are placed on bridges and use sonar to measure the distance from the water's surface to the sensor. The information, transmitted via cell phone to a central database, provides a time-sensitive picture of current stream levels. Users can easily access the information online through a Google Maps-based interface by visiting the IFC website at www.iowafloodcenter.org.

With thousands of bridges in Iowa, the IFC sensors could provide even more useful data if put into wider use. According to IFC researchers, such a system would enhance safety in the state by improving our ability to monitor stream levels and predict flooding, and by improving public preparedness.

IIHR Research Engineer Anton Kruger emphasized the part students played in the sensors' development.

"It was truly a team effort. Students played a big role," said Kruger, who is also an associate professor of computer and electrical engineering.

Citizens can access the sensor data on the IFC website by selecting the IFIS (Iowa Flood Information System). Visitors to the website can focus on sensors located upstream from specific Iowa communities.
 
The Iowa Flood Center collaborates with many governmental agencies, communities, individuals, and decision-makers to bring engineering and scientific expertise to bear on flood-related issues, and to improve the prediction and monitoring of floods in Iowa. To learn more about the IFC or to view maps presenting up-to-the-minute information on the state of Iowa's rivers and streams, visit www.iowafloodcenter.org.