Johnson County officials hope to work with Iowa Flood Center

BY BETH BRATSOS | MARCH 23, 2012 6:30 AM

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Johnson County officials will soon apply to work with the Iowa Flood Center for the first time.

County supervisors said Thursday they will sign an application to partake in a research project sponsored by the University of Iowa Hydroscience & Engineering Department and the Flood Center on the UI campus. If Flood Center officials select the county from among city and other county applicants, it could receive grant money for countywide watersheds and flood-mitigation projects.

Supervisor Terrence Neuzil stressed that the funding could help eliminate the negative effects of waterway pollution caused by flooding.

"Every time we see a significant flood … more pollutants are getting into our waterways," he said. "If we can figure out a way to slow down the water so it has a chance to filter itself before it gets into our streams, the less polluted waters are going to be."

The Flood Center will pick three counties for a study helping area landowners better understand flood-related issues, using funds from an $8.8 million Housing and Urban Development grant it and the Hydroscience & Engineering Department received following the 2008 flood.

Farming communities could find the aid highly beneficial, Neuzil said.

"Johnson County is a leader in this effort, and I anticipate we have a pretty good opportunity," he said. "We are hopeful that as a result of this study, we can work with folks in the farming community to slow down water that is coming off their fields."

Supervisor Janelle Rettig said each selected county will participate in a roughly two-year research and assessment project to determine different areas' needs for restoration. Watersheds included in Johnson County's application are Iowa River-Clear Creek and Iowa River-Old Man's Creek, which all make up a large portion of the county, she said.

"We picked these because they greatly affect flooding in Johnson County," she said. "We have to figure out where water comes from, how to slow it down, what kind of projects are appropriate. This is very important for our county that we better understand flooding … and types of projects we need to lower our risk of flooding."

If Johnson County receives the project, county officials could apply for money used to improve watersheds after the research period. This construction will likely begin in 2014.

Rick Dvorak, the administrator of the Johnson County Planning and Zoning Department, said flood-project officials will meet in various cities to see what can be done to better manage their watersheds, including new storage areas, building wetlands, or asking land owners not to farm in certain areas.

"There are no requirements. It's outlining," he said. "Different properties allow you to do different things, which will be discussed."

Communities have previously tried building berms to hold water, which usually fail, he noted.  

"When you start working in watershed areas — areas before it gets to cities — you can manage the water much better," he said. "This is an approach that is a little different, and I'm glad the state is buying into that."

Applications are due April 2; participating counties will be announced in June.

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