Republican budget would eliminate Iowa Flood Center

UPDATE: The House Appropriations Committee restored about $1.2 million of this funding on April 12. Added more details below.

The Republican education budget proposal would eliminate $1.5 million in state funding for the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa. According to an e-mail from Professors Witold Krajewski and Larry J. Weber, enclosed in full below, the cut "will have a devastating impact on the Flood Center's ability to continue to provide flood prevention and real-time flood support to communities, businesses, emergency managers, public works professionals and citizens."

In addition to ending the Iowa Flood Information System, zeroing out the flood center's budget would "jeopardize Iowa’s $96 million dollar federal Iowa Watershed Approach HUD [Housing and Urban Development] grant and the Center's ability to continue to implement projects in nine Iowa watersheds."

Republican lawmakers have been negotiating behind closed doors on appropriations bills that will likely be approved in quick succession during the next two weeks.

Although the education appropriations bill has not been published, to my knowledge, the Education Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled to meet today at 2:00 pm to discuss (and probably approve) the GOP-agreed budget numbers. Iowans should urgently contact Republicans who serve on that subcommittee: State Senators Tim Kraayenbrink (chair), Craig Johnson (vice chair), and Jason Schultz, and State Representatives Cecil Dolecheck (chair), Tom Moore (vice chair), Dean Fisher, Gary Mohr, and Walt Rogers. UPDATE: Barbara Rodriguez of the Associated Press published photos of the proposed education budget: page 1, page 2, and page 3.

Iowa lawmakers created the country's "first academic center devoted to the study of floods" in 2009, following the previous year's devastating natural disaster.

The IFC is now actively engaged in flood projects in several Iowa communities and employs several graduate and undergraduate students participating in flood-related research. IFC researchers have designed a cost-efficient sensor network to better monitor stream flow in the state; have developed a library of flood-inundation maps for several Iowa communities; and are working on a large project to develop new floodplain map for 85 of Iowa’s 99 counties.

UPDATE: A number of readers have speculated that Republicans may want to shut down the flood center to disrupt a major watersheds project, which might influence public discourse on land-use policies or climate-change impacts in Iowa.

Also, I learned this morning that Democratic State Senator Joe Bolkcom is the outreach and community education director for the flood center, as well as doing the same work for the University of Iowa's Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research. Bolkcom is the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee and has been a relentless critic of GOP budget policies this year.

SECOND UPDATE: GOP State Representative David Maxwell copied me on his e-mail to Professor Larry Weber, saying, "Not all of us are in favor of defunding the Iowa Flood Center. I will not have the final say, but I will make my thoughts known to someone who will have an effect on the bill." Keep contacting House and Senate Republicans. A reader told me that bringing up the threat to Iowa's $96 million dollar federal HUD grant may be a particularly effective talking point.

THIRD UPDATE: O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa,

During an interview with reporters on Tuesday, Dolecheck said if the University of Iowa wants to keep the Iowa Flood Center open, administrators can shift funds from elsewhere in the university’s operating budget.

Larry Weber of the Iowa Flood Center said the center provided invaluable projections for Iowans who were bracing for flooding last year. “We shut down a Google Map server because the traffic to the Iowa Flood Center was so intense during the run-up of the crest of the flood coming to Cedar Rapids,” he said, “so many people using that data wanting to see what the extent of the inundated would be, what the water depth on their property would be.”

FOURTH UPDATE: Brianne Pfannenstiel reported for the Des Moines Register, "The House Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment Wednesday that would restore $1.2 million for the program by transferring $250,000 away from a National Guard educational assistance program and transferring another $950,000 out of general aid to the University of Iowa. [...] Dolecheck, who is co-chair of the subcommittee that oversees the education budget proposal, said the Senate already is on board with the amendment and plans to adopt it."

Mike Delaney, leader of the Raccoon River Watershed Association, forwarded this e-mail to many environment-minded Iowans on April 11:

Dear Friend,

Yesterday, we learned that the Republican legislative budget proposal for next year zeros out the $1.5 million that supports the Iowa Flood Center. This would effectively eliminate the Iowa Flood Center.
This proposed cut will have a devastating impact on the Flood Center's ability to continue to provide flood prevention and real-time flood support to communities, businesses, emergency managers, public works professionals and citizens that have come to depend on the Center's efforts.

These cuts will result in the end of the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS) a powerful on-line tool which supports flood alerts and flood forecasts, more than 250 IFC real-time river and stream gauge sensors, more than 50 soil moisture/temperature sensors, flood inundation maps for 22 Iowa communities and rainfall products for the entire state.

It would also jeopardize Iowa’s $96 million dollar federal Iowa Watershed Approach HUD grant and the Center's ability to continue to implement projects in nine Iowa watersheds.

With so much at stake, we are reaching out to interested parties to encourage them to communicate with their state legislators about the value of the state’s investment in flood prevention and resiliency work.

We urge you to contact your state senator and state representative TODAY to share your concerns. The cuts are contained in the Education Appropriations Bill that is moving through the legislature today and tomorrow. This bill is expected to move very quickly so it is imperative you reach out as soon as possible.

You can call your legislators at the Capitol. The Senate switchboard number is 515-281-3371, and the House switchboard number is 515-281-3221. You can also find your legislators and their emails at
Let us know if you have any questions.
Thank you for your support!
Larry Weber
Witold Krajewski

Larry J. Weber
Director, IIHR Hydroscience
and Engineering
Edwin B. Green Chair in Hydraulics
The University of Iowa
100 C. Maxwell Stanley Hydraulics Laboratory
Iowa City, IA 52242-1585
319-335-5597 (ph)
319-335-5238 (fax)

Larry Weber: IIHR Director, Hydraulic Engineer

Witold Krajewski
Director, Iowa Flood Center
Professor and Rose & Joseph Summers Chair
in Water Resources Engineering
Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering
The University of Iowa

  • There's more!

    I received email news today about Iowa soil loss. Here is an edited part of that message.

    "Just heard that the statewide allowable soil loss amounts have doubled this year...our local NRCS office is concerned about this decision. Basically, you really have to lose a lot of soil to be out of compliance now. It's apparently due to strong pressure by the equipment manufacturers and powerful ag lobbies."

    In other words, farmers will be able to lose even more soil than they are losing already and still be able to qualify for those generous public subsidies, especially crop insurance. I'm really hoping that this will turn out to be a false rumor, but because this is spring of the year 2017, it is probably true.

    To put this in perspective, Iowa is currently losing, on average, on rowcropped land, five and half tons of topsoil per acre per year. (That may be a low estimate, because it's a few years old and Iowa erosion rates are going up.) The best recent research indicates that topsoil is formed at a rate of (and this may be a high estimate) three tenths of a ton per acre per year.

    So Iowa is losing topsoil about twenty times as fast as it's being replaced. As one soil expert at ISU pointed out years ago, Iowa is the world's largest, shallowest strip mine. And Iowa farmers reportedly now have official permission to mine even faster.

    Meanwhile, here is a quotation from a recent column written by a farm journalist in the AMES TRIBUNE. "God uses farmers -- only about 1 percent of His people -- to do HIS work on earth. God made the whole world dependent upon that 1 percent of the population to give them all they need to live -- food, fuel, and fiber. The farmer is one who works directly with God to make a living each year."

    Wow. Makes me feel so nit-picky to point out that along with the fuel, food, and fiber, a lot of us in Iowa would also like clean water, healthy topsoil, and some native biodiversity.

    Elk, bison, bears, wolves, and many other native Iowa species are probably gone for good. Hundreds of other native plants and animals are now on Iowa's official State Endangered/Threatened/Special-Concern list, so their future is very uncertain too. Is it too much to ask that we could at least still have some monarch butterflies and bobolinks?

    And in case anyone is under any illusion that farmers can't qualify for subsidies these days if they continue to destroy what's left of native biodiversity, the most recent FSA newsletter for Jasper County had a section this month called "Breaking New Ground," telling farmers how to check with the local USDA office before bulldozing trees and doing new drainage to make sure they'll still be in compliance as they plant rowcrops on even more acres. .

  • More

    I just got a message that said the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at ISU is also under threat. No details.

  • Leopold

    A friend just told me that the Leopold Center is slated for complete elimination.

  • student achievement teacher quality

    Why the large cut to student achievement teacher quality in the 2018 budget?

  • 2019

    Also looking at the budget columns what is going on with the 2019 budget? Are those proposed cuts because they would be massive? Or is that a partial year?

  • Great comment

    What's below appeared as a reader comment (not mine) on the DES MOINES REGISTER website. It's a great explanation of what has been happening at the Statehouse.


    Jim Caufield ·

    In the crosshairs is any group that ever has criticized or potentially ever could criticize the methods of industrial agricultural production. You have been warned. Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith Farm Bureau.

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