Iowa Flood Center Installs 50 More Electronic Stream Stage Sensors

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Iowa Flood Center, based at the University of Iowa, has taken advantage of the state's unusually mild start to winter by continuing to install a second batch of 50 electronic stream stage sensors across Iowa. Now fully installed, the new instruments bring to 100 the number of affordable stream sensors purchased by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and installed on the downstream side of bridges by the Iowa Flood Center.

Developed in part by students at the center, the sensors use sonar to measure the distance to the water’s surface and send reports every 15 minutes to a database at the center’s UI headquarters so that Iowans have access to real-time monitoring of water levels in Iowa’s rivers and streams. A river and stream-level map of the data is available on the center's website (

Flood center researchers say that Iowa, with its thousands of bridges, could benefit from an even wider network of information if more sensors were put into wider use. Such a system would enhance safety in the state by improving the ability to monitor stream levels and predict flooding, and by improving public preparedness.

In addition to developing a system of flood sensors and maps, the Iowa Flood Center plans to build a network to detect and record soil moisture content -- another factor involved in flooding.

Looking to the future, staff from the nearly three-year-old Iowa Flood Center are preparing a new proposal to the National Science Foundation to establish a $25 million National Flood Center. The UI’s experience with the Iowa Flood Center will make the proposal especially competitive. If funded, this new center will help establish Iowa as a national leader in flood-related research and education.