Iowa State University researchers are embarking on an experiment focused on Squaw Creek, a stream that runs along the east side of the Ames campus and has flooded ISU facilities in the past.
William Gutowski — an Iowa State professor of geological and atmospheric sciences — is leading the three-year project.
“What has become especially apparent to me is that there somehow needs a bridging about what I know about how climate is going to change to people who are actually on the ground — operational people, people who work in various sectors like water management — that we simply can’t provide them numbers and say, ‘Well, it’s going to get warmer or it’s going to rain a little bit more,'” Gutowski says. “But we really need to be understanding how they do their work and where climate information may fit in and where it doesn’t fit in.”
ISU researchers have developed computer simulations of water flow in the Squaw Creek watershed. They’ll be adding features to show how things change when businesses do things like put down concrete for a new parking lot, when farmers plow up a pasture and plant row crops or when there’s drought and more water from Squaw Creek flows into an underground aquifer.
“Especially thinking about climate change — what it means for the future in terms of how water will be best used,” Gutowski says.
Squaw Creek starts in Hamilton County, between the towns of Stratford and Stanhope, and travels south through Ames before it drains into the South Skunk River. That’s a relatively small area, or watershed.
“We wanted to start small because there are some new techniques we’re bringing into play here and we want to keep it simple in some sense so we can learn how to use those techniques and learn what works and what doesn’t work,” Gutowski says. “If we started out too big I think we would probably run the risk of just falling flat on our face because we’d be trying to do too much too soon.”
A handful of other Iowa State University professors will work on the team with Gutowski, including an English professor who’s been enlisted to facilitate communication between the researchers on campus and residents in the Squaw Creek area. The ultimate goal is to develop a water management plan for Squaw Creek.