Iowa City Press-Citizen: Iowa Flood Center Doubles Sensors Across the State

Monday, January 16, 2012

By Michelle Schmidt
Iowa City Press-Citizen

Where Governor Street passes over Ralston Creek, a small gray box clings to the east side of the bridge.

While it is only one of five in the state with a larger-than-normal solar panel, the box is now one of 100 Iowa Flood Center water-level sensors in Iowa.

To further expand their coverage, the Iowa Flood Center recently doubled their flood sensor presence across the state and center engineer Dan Ceynar said he has firsthand experience with all 100 sensors.

“There’s not a sensor out there that I didn’t touch,” Ceynar said Thursday.

Developed in part by University of Iowa students about two years ago, the Iowa Flood Center has expanded from 50 ultrasonic flood sensors about this time last year to 100 total.

Ceynar said the project was sparked by record flood levels across the state in 2008, and the online database provides anyone from residents and community officials to emergency management coordinators with real-time monitoring of water levels in Iowa’s rivers and streams.

The sensors, which update on the database every 15 minutes via an internal cell modem, use sonar to determine how fast water levels are rising and allow officials timely information to react accordingly to possible flood conditions.

“When you’re in the line of fire, you want all the information you can get to make an educated decision,” Ceynar said.

Funded by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the project has received two contracts from the state department for a total of $175,000 in the past two years, said DNR supervisor of floodplain management and dam safety Lori McDaniel.

“After the first 50 were successful, we decided to purchase another 50,” McDaniel said.

While Ceynar noted that the flood sensors are not competing with the approximately 170 United States Geological Survey guages that provide a similar service across the state, McDaniel said there is a potential for a mixture of the two sensors.

“There’s opportunities as we keep moving forward and do some strategic thinking that we can use the best guage for certain sites,” McDaniel said.