As Monroe County looks to implement flood warning system, leaders look to Iowa for ideas

Monroe County officials are trying to find a way to better monitor flooding and issue warnings to residents when they’re in danger. It’s one of the goals of the county’s Climate Change Task Force that was created at the end of August.

The task force invited the Iowa Flood Center to its meeting Wednesday to explain how it secured tens of millions of dollars in funding to create a statewide sensor system. While not necessarily expecting to create something on that big of a scale, they are hoping to use similar technology in Monroe County in the Kickapoo River, Coon Creek and La Crosse River watersheds.

After record-setting flooding hit Iowa in 2008, the Iowa Flood Center was established with a $1.5 million investment from the state Legislature, according to Nathan Young, associate director for the center. It’s been able to use that to then get federal funds and other grants.

“To the tune of over $100 million over the duration of our time there. So it’s really been a good investment for the state,” said Young during the meeting.

The Monroe County Climate Change Task Force asked Young to come present at the meeting to explain what the center has done in Iowa to monitor flooding and alert the public.

“We have these extreme weather events. We need to let the people know what’s going on,” said Bob Micheel, director of the Monroe County Land Conservation Department.

The IFC has been able to set up hydrologic network stations that can measure rainfall, wind speed and direction. It has set up about 250 stream sensors, capable of showing real-time flood stage levels and delivering alerts, along with other interactive tools.

“We spent a lot of time trying to develop tools that make it easier for people to understand their flood risk both during an event and long-term,” Young said.

Right now, Monroe County has a few monitoring sites through the U.S. Geological Survey, but they only show stream flow. For example, there’s one on the Kickapoo River right over the county line in Ontario.

“But at that point, when we know there’s a flood occurring in Ontario, it’s too late for people that get impacted in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve,” Micheel said.

While this technology used in Iowa could be a solution, the cost will be a factor. Some communities in Iowa have helped pay for a sensor at $3,000, according to a 2012 press release.

“There’s not a lot of dollars sitting at the local level, so we’re going to need partners at a state and federal level to implement these measures that we come up with,” Micheel said.

The group was hopeful that by having federal and state representatives in the audience, they might be receptive. A representative from U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s office was present at the meeting, along with state Rep. Loren Oldenburg, who represents part of Monroe County.

Oldenburg also serves as vice chair for the Assembly Committee on Environment. He said there are some bills that he has been working on to mitigate flooding but there were some interesting ideas about how to prevent flooding and warn people coming out of the meeting.

“Maybe in the future, we can tap into these ideas because we’ve had some extreme flooding events in the last 10 years. So we have to do something, I truly believe,” said Oldenburg.

The group was not necessarily looking to make any decisions Wednesday. The task force will be coming back next month to try to draw some conclusions on what to do for some select watershed areas in the county.

The group wants to have a monitoring and alert system up sometime next year. But it will depend on funding and the scale of the project.

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