KWWL-TV: UI Says Flood Studies Are Vital for Future Disasters

Monday, June 15, 2009

For the full video report, go here.

At this time last year, 600 homes and more than a dozen University of Iowa buildings were flooded in Iowa City. The Iowa River crested earlier and lower than expected in Iowa City and Coralville.

At the University of Iowa 13 buildings lost power in the morning because of flooding that affected the utility system. There's about a dozen federally-funded studies going on there right now. One researcher says the findings will allow them to better recognize when and how a flood is born.

If there's one thing Larry Weber learned from the 2008 flood, it's that one storm can change everything.

"What really surprised us was the impact of that last Thursday's storm on Cedar Rapids," said Weber, calling it "the straw that broke the camel's back."

But Weber hopes future floods won't catch people off-guard so easily. With a better understanding of what happened, he says, will come better ways for people to protect their homes.

"The models we're building will allow people to look out into the watershed, and find out what ways we might be able to help ourselves."

But developing those models are challenging. Weber says UI researchers now have a better idea of where rain goes when it hits the ground, and how much it takes to create a disaster. There are many variables to consider.

"In 2008, we had about the same total amount of rainfall that we had in 1993. But the flooding was so much more significant because of the distribution and the timing of those rainfall events."

Weber and U.S. Representative David Loebsack hope the University can be home to a new state flood research center.

"It could be a model, it could be used to study floods all over the country, maybe even the world," said Loebsack. "So, I put in a request at the federal level for that flood center."

The state has set aside $1.3 million for an Iowa Flood Center. Another $3 million has been requested in order to make it recognized as a National Flood Research and Education Center, which would be eligible for federal funding.

Weber hopes to hear by early August if the university will receive consideration to be a site for the national flood center.