A University of Iowa professor is asking lawmakers for over a million dollars to establish an "Iowa Flood Center." Larry Weber, director of the U-of-I’s Hydroscience and Engineering program, is the primary proponent of an Iowa Flood Center, to be based in Iowa City.
He compares it to the national center which forecasts tornadoes. "The National Severe Storms Forecasting Center in Oklahoma, that began exactly the same way — with state funding, with a federal science and technology center, and now a cooperating institute of many federal partners all bringing resources to the state of Oklahoma," Weber says. "We, in some ways, are modeling our Flood Center after the success in Oklahoma."
Weber says National Weather Service gauges currently measure a river’s level, but don’t take into account changes in the landscape or other factors, like what’s going on underneath the riverbed. "Imagine trying to predict the transport of water through the river without knowing anything about the channel," Weber says.
Weber envisions the Iowa Flood Center coming up with more sophisticated flood forecasts that would give landowners the ability to predict whether — and when — their property will be flooded. "Google Earth or any Google map application would allow…anyone with access to the Internet could go…look at a series or a library of flood inundation levels," Weber says. "So, they could say, ‘OK, here I am at 6th Street and 2nd Avenue and I want to look at the flood inundation for 10,000, 50,000, 100,000 cubic feet in the river, you know over a whole range, as well as what is the forecast for tomorrow."
Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, says it makes sense to manage floods to minimize the cost to society. "It would be much more cost effective to flood farmers’ fields, assuming those farmers would be willing, than it would be to flood downtown Cedar Rapids," Hogg says.
In that case, according to Hogg, farmers could be paid for their lost crops, rather than spending billions to fix up a flood-damaged city. Hogg is pushing for the U-of-I to get the state funding for an "Iowa Flood Center."
"I think it’s something we can’t afford not to do," Hogg says. "…Fool me once; shame on you. Fool me twice; shame on me — and the state of Iowa has been fooled more than twice, now, by flooding."
The U-of-I also has applied for a $5 million National Science Foundation grant for an Iowa Flood Center, but doesn’t expect to learn if they’re won the grant ’til 2010. In addition, Weber’s asking legislators for $1.3 million from the state to start the center and over $2 million every year after that to keep it running.