Category Archives: Flood Mitigation

Des Moines Register: Flooding has slammed every Iowa county since 1988, some as many as 17 times

Published / by Donnelle Eller

Read this article (complete with photos) in the Des Moines Register

QUASQUETON, Ia. — Puttering down the Wapsipinicon River in his fishing boat, Ronnie Wolfe points to a small backwater channel that’s similar to one on land he owns a couple miles south of this northeast Iowa town.

He wants to restore the channel on his 80 acres to an oxbow, a flood “off-ramp” that slows raging river waters.

Wolfe hopes to get funding for the project through a $100 million federal grant that’s testing the effectiveness of flood and water-quality practices in nine Iowa watersheds. The intent is to curb the flooding that is wreaking havoc in the state with increasing frequency.

“With more and more concrete and severe weather, I don’t know where the end is if we don’t start doing these things,” said Wolfe, who owns a home and business along the Wapsipinicon, a 300-mile river that empties into the Mississippi River north of Davenport.

The state ranks fourth nationally in the number of floods since 1988, according to the study.

“We have a problem,” said Witold Krajewski, director of the Iowa Flood Center, at the University of Iowa.

The state has incurred 951 federal flood-related disaster declarations over nearly three decades, slamming every county in Iowa.

Some counties have been walloped as many as 17 times, according to the study.

“These are not floods of a lifetime,” happening once every 100 or 500 years, said Larry Weber, executive associate dean at the UI College of Engineering.

“We’re repeatedly impacted by floods,” disasters that are an economic drain on the state, said Weber, who co-founded the Iowa Flood Center with Krajewski.

Instead of just reacting to disasters, Iowa needs to look at long-term investments to reduce flooding and its damage, said Weber and Krajewski, who conducted the study with Antonio Arenas Amado, a UI assistant research engineer.

And an added benefit from the spending, researchers said, would be cutting Iowa’s water pollution, reducing the phosphorus that leads to toxic algal blooms and nitrates that can make water dangerous to drink.

Weber estimates that tackling the state’s flooding and water-quality problems would cost an estimated $10 billion over five decades to fix.

Without slowing and holding water in upstream farming areas, “the losses are simply going to go higher and higher and higher,” said Weber, who helped land the $100 million federal grant.

“Working with agriculture, we could transform the landscape in Iowa,” he said.

The scientists are sharing the impact with lawmakers, but Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said the message isn’t fully landing.

“We made some progress,” he said. “There’s much more that needs to be done.”

‘Catch the water where it falls’

So far, Iowa’s flood work has been very focused on local responses, helping residents and businesses repair damage and move homes and buildings out of flood plains where possible.

For example, state, local and federal taxpayers have spent $175 million removing about 4,500 homes from Iowa flood plains since 1990.

That’s been effective, said John Benson, legislative liaison for Iowa Homeland & Emergency Management.

For example, removing 2,000 homes in eastern Iowa saved taxpayers $68 million in 2016 flooding, recouping about 90 percent of the $79 million spent removing the homes.

Historically, it takes three or four flood disasters to regain investments made through flood prevention efforts, Benson said.

But working upstream gives the state another way to approach its flooding  problem, he said.

About $31.5 million from the federal grant is going toward flood-reduction projects in Dubuque and to help residents repair homes repeatedly hit with rising waters.

Another $40 million is being used in eight other watersheds to build wetlands, terraces, ponds and buffer strips, among other infrastructure.

“We want to do anything we can do to catch the water where it falls and retain it, so it’s not entering the river — or entering the river at a slower rate,” Benson said.

“We can use the land to help manage a flood. … That’s the future,” he said.

That’s important as Iowa faces another flood season.

Iowa faces a 50/50 chance of another round of flooding this spring, with rivers in northern Iowa already filled, Benson said.

A determining factor will be “how fast that snow-pack in northern Iowa and southern Minnesota” melts, Benson said. “That can change quickly.”

Iowa governor Terry Branstad visited Lyon and Sioux county to assess damage and visit with victims of flooding in Northwest Iowa on Wednesday, June 18, 2014.

‘The next big disaster’

Amado, the UI research engineer, said flooding is both “an urban and rural problem.”

Since 1988, flood damage to Iowa homes, factories and other property reached $13.5 billion, while corn, soybeans and other crop losses reached $4.1 billion.

Weber said upstream flood mitigation efforts help offset Iowa’s “100-year practice of draining the land.”

For decades, farmers have used underground drainage tiles to more rapidly move water into Iowa’s streams and rivers, making the state’s rich soil suitable for growing crops.

Cities like Des Moines “are increasingly realizing that there are limitations to what they can achieve when it comes to flood protection,” said Amado, of the university’s IIHR–Hydroscience & Engineering institute.

The Iowa Flood Center is working with Des Moines officials to assess what kind of protection the city could receive from flood-mitigation practices installed upstream.

“Imagine that you can build flood walls high enough — what about the communities downstream,” Amado said. “They will be impacted.”

One option to finance the $10 billion needed to tackle comprehensive flood mitigation is a proposal to increase the state sales tax three-eighths of 1 cent, Weber said.

A diverse group, including environmentalists, farmers and hunters, back adding the tax to generate about $188 million annually to boost water quality, outdoor recreation and wildlife habitat restoration, among other initiatives.

Sixty-three percent of Iowans voted for a constitutional amendment in 2010 to create a separate trust fund to clean the water and improve farm soil and wildlife habitat.

Republican lawmakers, who control the House and Senate, have resisted increasing the sales tax. Instead, in January, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law a $282 million water-quality package that environmentalists have criticized as inadequate to solve Iowa’s water problems.

Hogg said Iowa lawmakers are so focused on tax cuts this year that they’ve struggled to cover “even basic government services,” let alone look at long-term investments.

“It’s upstream management and retention and work we need to do to safeguard property downriver,” he said. “You’ve got to prepare for that next, big disaster.”

‘The river is my livelihood’

Wolfe knows his one oxbow isn’t enough to stop the Wapsipinicon River from flooding.

But he believes joining with neighbors throughout his watershed and others in the region could make a difference in the amount of devastation that downstream towns and residents see.

Buchanan County is one of nine Iowa counties that are among the top 15 percent nationally with the highest number of flood disasters per square mile.

“When it floods, I can’t drive to my house … that happens three or four days a year,” said Wolfe, whose home sits on a ridge above the river.

He has a similar setup at his restaurant and bar, Wolfey’s Wapsi Outback, which sits high enough off the river that it hasn’t flooded.

“I’m in a flood zone now. I never used to be,” said Wolfe, whose personal and professional life revolves around the Wapsipinicon River.

In addition to his concerns about flooding, Wolfe is worried about the health of the Wapsipinicon, in particular the damage soil carried into the river can cause, including  increased silting and high levels of nutrients.

Hundreds of his customers come to the region each year to bike, kayak, fish and hunt on or along the river.

“The river is my livelihood,” said Wolfe, who pointed out a bald eagle on a recent spring day.

“I live on the river. I work on the river,” he said. “My whole life I’ve spent on that river. It’s a huge part of my life.”

Upper Wapsi in the News!

Published / by Orlan Love

Work on Wapsipinicon will reduce flooding, aid wildlife

Orlan Love, Gazette correspondent

Construction is expected to begin later this year on a project intended to reduce flood impacts and improve water quality in the Wapsipinicon River.

“The main focus is flood control, which will help everybody downstream. But the projects also will improve water quality and create wildlife habitat,” said Angie Auel, coordinator of the Upper Wapsipinicon River Watershed Management Authority.

Within a targeted area in southern Buchanan County, more than $2 million is available to help fund construction of conservation practices to mitigate downstream flood damage, Auel said.

Volunteer landowners in three sub-watersheds — Smith, Sand and Dry creeks — may be eligible for 75 percent cost-share assistance for farm ponds, wetlands, saturated buffers, terraces, water and sediment control basins, oxbow restorations and other best management practices, Auel said.

The river and creek bottoms in the target area have many oxbows created when the streams changed course over the years, she said.

Oxbow restorations, in which the depressions are deepened and reconnected with their original streams, have, in addition to their water storage and treatment capacities, great potential as habitat for waterfowl and aquatic animals, including as nurseries for juvenile fish, Auel said.

“It’s geared toward flood control with practices that hold back and slowly release excess water. It has the potential to do some really good things for Iowans and the environment,” said Dan Cohen, director of the Buchanan County Conservation Department.

The $4.4 million awarded to the Wapsipinicon project is part of a $97 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant intended to make Iowa more resilient to flooding and to reduce nutrient pollution.

Auel said about half the $4.4 million will pay for development of a comprehensive watershed plan with the remainder funding best management practices in the targeted area.

When those practices are in place, Iowa Flood Center metrics “will show that we can reduce flooding,” said Laura Friest, executive director of Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development, an agency heavily involved in both the initial HUD grant application and the formulation of the Upper Wapsipinicon and other watershed management plans

“When you reduce flooding, you also reduce sediment and nutrient pollution. They go hand in hand,” said watershed planner Ross Evelsizer, Friest’s colleague at the RC&D.

“We want to quantify the benefits and develop an approach that can be replicated in large watersheds throughout Iowa,” said Antonio Arenas, an associate research engineer with the Iowa Flood Center.

Similar HUD-funded projects are underway in eight other watersheds: the Middle Cedar, Upper Iowa and English rivers, as well as Clear Creek and Bee Branch in Eastern Iowa, and the North Raccoon, East Nishnabotna and West Nishnabotna rivers in western Iowa.

Arenas said Iowa’s flood-prone status is well illustrated by the 951 county-scale flood-related presidential disaster declarations it has recorded from 1988 to 2016. Among the 50 states, Iowa ranks fourth in that category behind Texas, Missouri and Kentucky, he said.

Among Iowa’s 99 counties, Clayton is alone at the top with 17 such declarations in the 29 years covered by the Flood Center’s analysis. But Buchanan, Butler, Des Moines and Fayette counties, tied for second with 16 declarations, are close behind, Arenas said.

Learn more about the Wapsi Watershed!

Published / by Megan Buckingham
  • Everyone--from landowners to communities--has a role in reducing runoff and preventing flooding!

Upper Wapsi Watershed Open Houses

Published / by Megan Buckingham

Residents and landowners in the Upper Wapsi Watershed are invited to a series of Public Meeting Open Houses.

Who might want to come? Anyone who is interested in…

  • Keeping communities and landowners in the Upper Wapsi protected from flooding.
  • Sustaining clean water.
  • Learning about urban conservation practices that can beautify communities and help better manage stormwater to reduce flood risk.
  • Exploring the many ways farmers & landowners are already practicing conservation on rural land–and considering opportunities to increase impactful conservation.
  • Sharing their own perspective on the watershed–what they value, what they’re concerned about, and what they want to do to make the Upper Wapsi more resilient.

The Open Houses are scheduled for:
November 16th – New Hampton Public Library – 1:00-2:30pm
November 20th – Bremer County ISU Extension Office in Tripoli – 1:00-2:30pm
November 30th – Riceville Public Library – 7:00-8:30pm
December 6th – Independence Public Library – 7:00-8:30pm

No RSVP required, but if you have questions or want to let us know you’re coming, please contact Megan at Northeast Iowa RC&D: megan@northeastiowarcd.org, 563-864-7112.

We hope to see you at one of the open houses!

Rain Gardens: Beautiful and Beneficial

Published / by Megan Buckingham

Rain gardens utilize good soil and deep-rooted plants to infiltrate runoff from a smaller area, such as a roof, driveway, or a section of street or parking lot. Often rain gardens are beautifully landscaped with brightly colored flowers that attract butterflies and other pollinators. Properly constructed rain gardens are in the natural path of runoff and are slightly depressed, but designed to infiltrate ponded water in under 24 hours. Check out Rainscaping Iowa’s rain garden resources to learn more!

Rain gardens are another urban stormwater best management practice (BMP) you may want to consider using at home, at your business, or in your community! To learn more about urban stormwater BMPs check out Rainscaping Iowa, a project of the Iowa Storm Water Education Partnership.

Bioswales: Not your grandmother’s storm sewer

Published / by Megan Buckingham

A bioswale can be used in place of a traditional storm sewer. Planted with deep-rooted native grasses, flowers, and shrubs, bioswales beautify while helping water filter and infiltrate. Bioswales work best when they are placed in existing drainage areas. By design, bioswales infiltrate frequent smaller rain events and convey heavy rains in a non-erosive manner. They do not hold water on the surface for extended periods of time. In fact, bioswales can be a good solution for areas that have problems with ponding and standing water. Learn more about bioswales at RainscapingIowa.org!

Bioswales are just one of many green stormwater management practices that communities can implement. Check this page for more examples, or visit the Iowa Storm Water Education Partnership’s website to learn more!

Survey Sent to Landowners in Upper Wapsi Watershed

Published / by Megan Buckingham

If you own property in the Upper Wapsipinicon Watershed, you may find a survey in your mailbox this summer. The survey is part of the planning process the Upper Wapsipinicon Watershed Management Authority (WMA) has undertaken in an effort to reduce the risk of flooding and improve water quality in the watershed.

The Upper Wapsipinicon WMA, a formal partnership between 15 communities, 9 Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and 8 county Boards of Supervisors, is working with Northeast Iowa RC&D to create a 20-year plan for the watershed. The first step in the planning process is learning about the watershed and the people who live in it. To that end, Northeast Iowa RC&D has begun evaluating land use, urban runoff, and other characteristics of the watershed. The survey, sent to 1,300 households, is one way landowners can give input to the plan.

“Input from people who live and own land in the watershed is critical to creating an effective plan,” said Megan Buckingham, Watershed Outreach Coordinator with Northeast Iowa RC&D. “Responses to the survey will help us understand landowners’ experiences with water and flooding. And since participation in watershed projects is voluntary, it will gauge urban and rural landowners’ interest in participating in storm water management or targeted conservation practices.”

To learn more about the Upper Wapsipinicon Watershed, scroll around this website or contact Megan at Northeast Iowa RC&D at 563-864-7112.

Building a Stormwater Quality Management Program in Readlyn

Published / by Brad Crawford

The City of Readlyn recently received $70,000 from the Iowa Water Quality Initiative Urban Conservation Project to be used to support a local partnership brought together with the common goal of building a stormwater quality management program within the City of Readlyn. This project will partner with the SRF Sponsored Projects Program to install a series of bioretention cells in an area of town which has been historically subject to large stormwater runoff volumes.

Projects funded by the Iowa WQI Urban Conservation Project will focus on conservation measures that capture and allow stormwater to be absorbed into the ground and reduce a property’s contribution to water quality degradation, stream flows and flooding.  They also include strong partnerships and outreach/education components to disseminate information to promote increased awareness and adoption of available practices and technologies for achieving reductions in nutrient loads to surface waters.

Full Announcementhttp://www.cleanwateriowa.org/article.aspx?id=223&Branstad%2c+Reynolds%2c+Northey+Announce+12+Urban+Water+Quality+Demonstration+Projects+Selected+to+Receive+Funding

Learn More About Bioretention Cells in Iowa: http://www.rainscapingiowa.org/documents/filelibrary/bioretention_cells/BioretentionCell2014_4AAE3A8292807.pdf

 

Master River Stewards Program to be Offered Summer 2017 in Wapsipinicon River Watershed

Published / by Brad Crawford

Iowa Rivers Revival’s Master River Stewards Program is a comprehensive river course that will focus on riverine systems, including skills to paddle and navigate rivers, restore aquatic habitat, improve water quality, and understand policies related to floodplains, river protection and restoration.

The Master River Steward program will build on a network of river experts in various partner agencies and organizations. It will help adult learners collaborate to protect and improve Iowa’s rivers, so that current and future generations can enjoy these resources.

Session Topics

  1. Watersheds & Ag Policies
  2. River Form & Function
  3. Navigating Iowa’s Waters/Wildlife & River Chemistry/Monitoring
  4. Stream/Riparian Zone Restoration & Impacts on Fish/Wildlife
  5. Agricultural Production & Farm Waste/Water Treatment Plant Visits
  6. Review & Potential Projects
  7. Post Training/Follow-Up, Project Sharing & Evaluation

Registration Deadline: May 2, 2017 (please inquire about availability after this date)
Contact: Sondra Cabell, Naturalist, fontanapark@iowatelecom.net, (319) 636-2617