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Maps simulate Iowa flood scenarios

An image of what the flood simulation maps look like on the Iowa Flood Information System (Photo: KGAN/KFXA)
An image of what the flood simulation maps look like on the Iowa Flood Information System (Photo: KGAN/KFXA)
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The Iowa Flood Center in Iowa City is working on a series of maps they want you to know about.

They're part of what's called the Iowa Flood Information System and you can look at it from your computer. They contain important simulations that may contain your workplace, business or home. Since 2009 the center has been working on the set of maps to give an idea of what could happen in a flood.

"The idea is we've gone through and made a hydraulic model, which then we can go and run simulations and make a map for each river stage," says Water Resources Engineer Daniel Gilles.

If the National Weather Service issues a flood level of 32 feet, for example, the map allows you to see the flooding for that level and plan for it in real life. Gilles says FEMA usually has flood maps at the 10, 50, 100 and 500-year flood levels, but in many places they were made decades ago without the same high-resolution terrain data.

"Typically what we do is we make a map for each half foot of river stage, so in a lot of locations that can be 30 to 50 maps," he says.

Thousands of dollars in state money has helped the center map 20 different Iowa communities so far.

"Using one of our boats we'll use an echo sounder and a GPS unit to map the river bed, the geometry of the river bed and then integrate that with the state wide LiDAR topography, really high-resolution topography," says Associate Director Nathan Young.

Young says he hopes the maps will help as a tool to make a river forecast something meaningful to the people in the community.

"What if the flow gets this high, what should we be preparing to be impacted by flooding?" says Gilles.

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If you would like to see these maps for yourself, visit

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