University of Iowa: A case study of flood response

 

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In honor of construction starting soon to replace one of the last University of Iowa buildings damaged by the 2008 floods, we have decided to highlight a history of flood infrastructure investments at the university .

Just one-year shy of a decade since the 2008 floods, the final plans have been approved for a new facility for the University of Iowa Museum of Art. Like Hancher Auditorium, the music school, the library, and the Iowa Memorial Union, among about seventeen other buildings (Connerly et al 2017), the art museum was a significant loss to the university that scattered its 14,000-estimated piece collection to new locations on and off campus.

According to Connerly et al 2017, damages and recovery were estimated to be $743 million and is the highest costing disaster recovery in Iowa. As a public institution located in a floodplain area, it has had a history of flood preparation and response since its inception in 1847. As their article explains, the flooding brought up many critical questions, including: “why did the University construct important new buildings, some of them iconic, within the floodplain?” and how can the university cope with future natural and human-made flooding?

To answer the first question, the university built where they did predominantly because they had few options. The risk of flood also gave the appearance of being manageable at the time and policies for flood mitigation and subsidies were more risky than they appeared to be (Connerly et al 2017). The university started on a small four block area east of the Iowa River. The university and the City of Iowa City grew concurrently causing buildings to be placed closer and closer to the river. In 1905, the university commissioned a master plan by the Olmsted Brothers that included riverfront property, but its use would only be for recreation and parks (Connerly et al 2017). Land acquisition advisement by the Olmsteds was illustrated in the following:

“The Olmsted Brothers emphasized the need to acquire land that would be of value to the University, even if it costs more. They stated, ‘‘the process of acquisition of additional land must evidently go on indefinitely, but some other motives than those of convenience and cheapness should be kept in mind and should often have more weight than those.” (55)

The construction on the floodplain started with the Iowa Memorial Union (IMU) in the 1920s and then grew to include the arts campus. Construction for a fine arts building was originally planned for a site north of the IMU, but an agreement could not be reached for a price. Instead, the campus was developed on acquired land that was a wetland formerly used as a city landfill by the river (Connerly et al 2017).

The wetlands were filled and the buildings were constructed to be above recorded flood level data available at the time and levees were constructed on the river. Later, these efforts included the university’s support of building the Coralville Reservoir by the Army Corps of Engineers, in which the president of the university at that time stated, “the Reservoir will make possible a program for the permanent development of the river front through the University campus” ( Connerly et al 2017, p.58). The campus was growing in two halves on the east and west side of the river. Development in-between would unite the two pieces, especially when considering there were little other places to build.

This culminates in the issue of what Connerly et al (2017) describes as the “safe development paradox.” This term is used to describe the federal support for levees, dams, disaster aid programs, and other assistance that spurred development in the floodplains. By providing a safety net with federal assisted water-related control, recovery, and insurance, federal policy enabled development that came at a cost with the 1993 and 2008 floods.

How can the university cope with natural and human-made flooding for the future?

To answer this question, the university has responded to the 2008 floods by re-purposing or completely rebuilding new facilities that are more resilient to withstanding future flooding using scientific modelling as a tool. The recovery efforts include a multitude of partnerships that choreograph their work around where FEMA compliance and insurance policies reach within each building. The university voluntarily chose to conduct a campus-wide flood mitigation strategy that is in progress. This strategy includes elevated sidewalks, supports for temporary flood walls, building pumping systems, and removable external walls. The university has also rebuilt two buildings away from their original locations. As seen above, these strategies have been tested with the rise in water levels in 2013.

In review, the tumultuous history of flooding infrastructure contains valuable lessons. Resilience, which is at the core of what public infrastructure is trying to achieve, is the ability to spring back from disasters. The university that came out on the other side of the 2008 floods is one that utilizes water research and technology using scientific methods and demonstrates that there is room for improvement in state and federal policies and procedures. As a result, when future flooding occurs, we will all be better able to respond.

Connerly, Charles, Laurian, Lucie, Throgmorton, James. 2017. Planning for Floods at the University of Iowa. Journal of Planning History 16(1): 50-73.

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Hanna Bates is the Program Assistant at the Iowa Water Center. She has a MS in Sociology and Sustainable Agriculture from Iowa State University. She is also an alumna of the University of Iowa for her undergraduate degree. 

Summer Update from the IWC Graduate Student Research Grant Program: Emily Martin

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Post submitted by Emily Martin, MS Environmental Science student at Iowa State University

Intensive farming and heavy nutrient application in the Midwest coupled with an extensive subsurface tile drainage network frequently leads to excessive nutrients in surface waters. As a result, heavy amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus has become a critical issue for policy and water research.

In spring 2017, I was awarded funding in the Iowa Water Center Graduate Student Supplemental Research Competition for my project titled, “Enhancing phosphate removal in woodchip bioreactors.” This project is conducted under advisement of Dr. Michelle Soupir at Iowa State University. A bioreactor is a subsurface trench along the edge of the field that can be filled with a range of different carbon sources. They are identified as a practice to help mitigate nutrient loss to flowing water systems, and so they deserve further research to understand their full capacity to capture water nutrients.

The goal of the project is to evaluate the ability of woodchip bioreactors to remove phosphorous by adding biochar as a phosphate (P) amendment to bioreactors. Objectives of the study are (1) to assess the effectiveness of different amendments on P removal in bioreactors and (2) to analyze the effect of influent P on overall removal.

We broke the project down into two main parts: a P sorption study and a column study. We completed part one during the month of June using 18 different types of biochar. The biochar was made by Bernardo Del Campo at ARTichar using three different temperatures of slow pyrolysis, 400°C, 600°C, and 800°C. We used six different types of biomass provided by the BioCentury Research Farm and the City of Ames, which are: switchgrass, corn stover, ash trees, red oak, mixed pine, and loblolly pine. The goal was to test a variety of biomass to see which would perform best as a P amendment and under which pyrolysis conditions they would function best.

Biochar is made using a process called pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is the burning of plant materials in a low to no oxygen chamber in order to “activate” the carbon structures that exists naturally within plants. The highly structured form of carbon rings in plants is desired for its stability and potential to adsorb or bind with chemicals, including phosphate and nitrate. There are two main types of pyrolysis: fast and slow, which refers to the amount of time the biomass remains in the pyrolysis chamber. Fast pyrolysis can be used to create biochar, but the yield is lower than slow pyrolysis. The temperature of pyrolysis can impact how the biochar interacts with different chemicals. In order to test these effects, we used three different temperatures when making our biochar.

Results from the P sorption study showed a few patterns. The main take away is that none of the biochars we tested adsorbed P exceptionally well; however, of the biochars we tested, the following were our top five P adsorbers:

  1. Corn stover @ 800°C
  2. Loblolly pine @ 600°C
  3. Red oak @ 600°C
  4. Switch grass @ 800°C
  5. Mixed pine @ 400°C

Because none of the biochars performed well in our P sorption test, we had to make a decision for the second part of the project. We came up with two options: (1) find new biomass and run the P sorption test again, or (2) test how well all 18 biochars remove nitrate from water. We chose option two and have begun nitrate batch tests, which will run throughout July. The batch tests are being run in one liter flasks and are tested at 4, 8, 12, and 24 hours to simulate woodchip bioreactor residence times found in the field.

After the nitrate batch test is complete, we will analyze results and decide if we will move forward with option one and see how other biomasses perform in a P sorption test.

Check back later on to learn more about the progress of this project!

 

2018 Iowa Water Conference – Call for Abstracts!

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Success in water-related work, whether it is out in the farm field, a backyard, or in city infrastructure, cannot be achieved alone. It is done by a community and for a community. With that in mind, the Iowa Water Conference Planning Committee is happy to announce the theme for the 2018 Iowa Water Conference: “Our Watershed, Our Community.” This theme was inspired by the large, complex network of water-related professionals in Iowa that support local watershed work.

We invite water professionals, researchers, and graduate students to submit presentation abstracts centered around the theme of community in water. Through these presentations, applications should share success stories, challenges, and research that supports a foundation of community at the watershed-level.

The call for presentations, including instructions for submission, can be found here. Questions can be directed to Hanna Bates at hbates@iastate.edu. We look forward to learning about your watershed experience!

Project AWARE 2017

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 Photo of Cedar River Coalition partners. Photo from @IWAReduceFloods, the Twitter account for the Iowa Watershed Approach.

Getting Down and Dirty for Cleaner Iowa Rivers

Last week we participated in cleaning up an Iowa river alongside the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and other water partners across the state for Project AWARE. This event is a week-long outdoor expedition to clean up a selected Iowa river. The purpose of this event is to increase awareness of and engagement with Iowa’s public waters. It gives Iowans the opportunity to make a difference in water no matter who they are and what they do in the state. Participants have the opportunity to do the cleanup for one day or stay and camp the whole week.

This year, the event was held on the Cedar River in Mitchell and Floyd Counties from July 10-14. Hundreds of water partners and community members across the state joined for this year’s cleanup. We attended the fourth day of the event. Our starting point was about 19 miles up river from Charles City, Iowa. Once we arrived in Charles City, we had the opportunity to go inner tubing down the Charles City Whitewater course to the campsite to receive a t-shirt and join in on evening fun at the site.

While we only attended one day of the trip, we found many canoe-loads of trash that does not belong in a river, such as barrels, tires, and even a couch!

See photos below for the highlights!

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Watershed Management Authorities of Iowa

Cultivating a Community of Practice for Watershed Management

Submitted by Melissa Miller, Associate Director of the Iowa Water Center

The word is starting to get out on one of our latest Iowa Water Center initiatives: Watershed Management Authorities of Iowa (WMAs of Iowa). This is a statewide organization to unite the ever-growing numbers of Watershed Management Authorities in the state. The goal of this group is to create a network for WMAs to connect with each other, give WMAs a voice in the state, and serve as an information resource for all watershed management stakeholders. WMAs of Iowa helps cultivate a community of practice for watershed management in Iowa.

Let’s be honest here – we did not come up with this great idea. The need for this group came from the WMA stakeholders themselves, and they are the ones who will drive it. Multiple work sessions this winter with the WMA community resulted in a strategic framework that needed one thing: implementation. IWC proposed to act as a catalyst for implementation by offering administrative capacity – organizing meetings, managing a timeline, maintaining a listserv, coordinating all the work that has already gone into creating a presence for this group.

Right now, we’re in the process of inviting WMAs to join us, and we’re looking for board members from those existing and newly forming WMAs to drive the organization forward. We hope to have a board in place by this fall with a website, newsletter, and other outreach and resource activities to follow.

Why is IWC involved?

Great question.

I’ve confessed before to being the president of the WMA fan club, and waxed poetic about the effectiveness of watershed-based planning. I’ve also been using the admittedly odd metaphor that IWC can act as caulk for water groups in the state – we seek to fill gaps and build capacity that connects groups to use resources effectively and efficiently.

By building up WMAs in the state, we’re promoting a research-backed method of natural resource management that will lead to better water resource management and implementation of creative and practical solutions to water resources related problems. That is the reason we exist, you know. (Need proof? Read the Water Resources Research Act as amended in 2006!)

A Day at the Lake

Post submitted by Hanna Bates, Program Assistant at the Iowa Water Center

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Slideshow of the Iowa Water Center Board visit to the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory.

This week, the Iowa Water Center Advisory Board held their bi-annual meeting at the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory at Lake Okoboji in northwestern Iowa. The IWC advisory board started in 2006, and is made up of representatives from around the state (list of members provided below). This was the first meeting for several of our board members, so we covered IWC history to start off the meeting and spent time discussing current and upcoming IWC activities.  Staff members and the advisory board also visited the research field sites for Elizabeth Swanner, Assistant Professor in the Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences at Iowa State University.

Swanner’s research is funded by the Iowa Water Center’s competitive annual seed grant program. This grant program funds one faculty member at an Iowa college as well as graduate students. Swanner’s project titled, “The role of iron mobility from anoxic sediments in stimulating harmful algal blooms,” received funding in 2016 and renewed funding for 2017. During the visit, Swanner described the project and demonstrated how samples are collected during a pontoon boat ride. Her research is focused on evaluating the potential that iron is released out of lake sediments, thus stimulating the blooming of toxic cyanobacteria in Iowa’s lakes during the summers. You can read more about her research here.

Follow her research on twitter at @betsyswanner.

The Iowa Water Center Board Members

  • Larry Weber (Chair), Director of IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering, University of Iowa
  • Marty Adkins, Asst. State Conservationist at the Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Daryl Smith, Professor Emeritus of Biology at University of Northern Iowa
  • Mary Skopec, Executive Director of Lakeside Laboratory
  • Jon Nania, Supervisory Hydrologist at the Iowa Water Science Center at the USGS (replacing Kevin Richards as USGS Iowa Water Science Center representative)
  • Jon Tack,  Water Quality Bureau Chief at the Iowa DNR (replacing Bill Ehm as IDNR representative)
  • Jake Hansen, Water Resources Bureau Chief at the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (replacing Jim Gillespie as IDALS representative)
  • John Lawrence, Iowa State University Interim Vice President for Extension and Outreach
  • James Reecy, Professor in the Department of Animal Science at Iowa State University (replacing Wolfgang Kliemann as ISU Vice President for Research representative)

We’d like to extend a special thank you to Mary Skopec for making the arrangements for our meeting at Lakeside Lab. We highly recommend trekking to Okoboji for a tour of the campus or to take one of Lakeside’s academic courses. Lakeside does a variety of outreach, too – so bring the entire family!

Caring for Creation & Sister Water

Submitted by Emilia Sautter, Ecospirituality Coordinator at Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center. Post originally appeared in the Prairiewoods’ Newsletter

Caring for Sister Water was one of many creation care efforts that came with the founding of Prairiewoods 20 years ago. These efforts included two infiltration ponds that hold much of the water that runs off our parking lots and roadways, as well as numerous trees and plants with extensive root systems that hold and cleanse water. After the Cedar Rapids floods of 2008, we doubled our efforts to address storm water concerns— we installed permeable pavers, hosted rain barrel classes and identified four storm water culverts that drain on our land. Varying degrees of erosion meant that all four of these culvert areas needed attention.

The first project—the North Culvert—was addressed in the fall of 2013. We built a series of rock check dams to help slow storm water, reducing the erosion that was degrading the area.

The East Culvert, the largest culvert on our property, recently was completed, thanks to generous grants from the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation and Rockwell Collins. This culvert has a drainage area of about 73 acres, meaning that water from more than 70 acres drains onto our land through this storm water culvert. The water then flows into Dry Creek and eventually into the Indian Creek and Cedar River Watersheds. (The Cedar River Watershed includes Hiawatha, Cedar Rapids and a number of other communities. It is what flooded in 2008.) Over the years, rain events and impervious surfaces (such as roads, driveways and turf grass) have forced large amounts of fast moving water through this culvert, degrading the culvert and resulting in severe stream bank erosion.

Why do we care? Erosion means soil loss, soil loss leads to sedimentation in the water, and sedimentation (the number one cause of water pollution in Iowa) leads to reduced water quality (1). Soil is the foundation of our entire food system, and without it we humans could not live. The health of Sister Water is a direct reflection of our own health, as our bodies are about 60% water.

During the East Culvert Project, we reshaped the eroded banks to allow water to spread out. We also re-seeded the banks with vegetation that better holds the soil. We removed some trees to allow more light in to help the vegetation thrive.

One way to help Sister Water is to move away from systems that force water into our waterways, since this leads to flooding and water pollution. Sister Water wants to move more slowly, at her own pace, nourishing flora and fauna as she infiltrates back into Earth. At Prairiewoods, we want to help her as best we can.

Thanks to the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation and Rockwell Collins, we are offering free educational classes as part of our East Culvert Project. Join us for EarthFriendly Lawn Care on Sept. 29 (see p. 9 for details) or for upcoming Rain Barrel Classes (see our website for details). Visit  www.IowaStormWater.org to learn what you can do with your own lawn.  And if you are a Cedar Rapids resident, visit  www.Cedar-Rapids.org to learn how you can get reimbursed for up to 50% of storm water retention projects on your property

(1) Statistic is regarding the source of surface water pollution by volume in Iowa. Source: https://www.polkcountyiowa.gov/conservation/education/nature-in-iowa/water-quality/.