Iowa City Press-Citizen: Our View--State Right to Invest in Iowa Flood Center

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

We’re glad the Iowa Legislature’s agreed-upon budget finally ended the recent trend of slashing the state’s budget for the Iowa state Board of Regents and, instead, increased the budget for the regents by about $23 million — a number even higher than the $20 million increase Gov. Terry Branstad was pushing for.

Iowa’s three regents universities would receive $545 million if the governor signs the legislation — including an extra $18.5 million for general operations.

But we think it’s also important to note that the regents’ budget now also includes a separate line item for the Iowa Flood Center, which is housed at the University of Iowa.

Established in the wake of the floods of 2008, the center has spent the past three years studying and monitoring flooding within the state. Using new technology and drawing upon local, state and national expertise, the center has proven to be an invaluable asset for helping to ensure that Iowa counties and cities are better prepared when (not if) the next big flood comes.

When it was established in 2009, the center received its funding from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund. That fund typically is used to support one-time construction items, but because money was available after the flood, it made sense to support the new center at least temporarily from that source.

But services and information provided by the center need to continue to be part of Iowa’s long-term flood preparedness. And if the researchers and employees at the Iowa Flood Center are going to be able to plan for longer-term research projects — and apply for longer-term grants — they require a longer-term source of funding.

Assuming the governor signs the bill, the proposed budget would give the center a line item within the regents’ budget. Having line item status isn’t an assurance of state funding, but it does make it far more likely lawmakers will know about the center and will ask about the work being done.

And the change highlights just how hard director Witold Krajewsi and other flood center staff have been working to make sure state lawmakers understand the statewide impact of the center’s research. (The Iowa Flood Center, in fact, is a prime example of the broad impact UI has on a statewide level.)

“From day one, the legislators recognized we have the expertise here that’s necessary to help the rest of the citizens of Iowa,” said Krajewsi. “We take that to heart and we try to serve the entire state. It’s a very strong feature of everything that we do.”

The new budget also includes about $200,000 more than the center’s allocation last year. That additional funding likely is to be used to help cover expenses for projects already under way.

The Iowa Flood Center has an annual budget of about $4 million, with funding from state and federal sources, including the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the National Science Foundation, among others.

We hope giving the center a more predictable level of state funding will allow it to live up to its mission of making Iowa better prepared and more resilient to future floods.