Sermet Selected as a Recipient for the Iowa Water Center’s Research Grant Competition

Ames, Iowa – The Iowa Water Center (IWC) annually administers a statewide grant competition known as the IWC Graduate Student Research Competition.

The purpose of this funding is to help graduate students to complete additional research objectives beyond the scope of their current work, with an emphasis on submitting their research to peer-reviewed publications.

Yusuf Sermet is one of the recipients, along with three other graduate students in Iowa. Each recipient will receive funding for various different research studies.

Sermet’s research predominately focuses on next-generation environmental knowledge generation and communication, as well as affordable water monitoring devices and applications.

Accuracy and reliability are two necessary components when it comes to the monitoring of our water resources. Current monitoring practices are accurate, however the cost to apply these systems on a large scale are restrictively expensive. This inspired Sermet to create a cost-friendly solution. Sermet’s research project created a water level measurement methodology that only relies on prevalent sensors, commonly found on smartphones. This allows for the camera-based embedded system to measure water levels, detect objects on the water surface (e.g. debris, boats, trees) and supply annotated data for hydrological processes, such as surface water modeling and streamflow estimation.

Get to know Yusuf Sermet, a PhD student at the University of Iowa.

Sermet first learned about the IWC when he participated in the annual Iowa Water Conference in 2016. He, along with his research group, took part in the student poster presentation and won second place that year. Sermet shared that, through this opportunity, he was able to learn from Iowa’s most prevalent researchers, professionals, stakeholders and peers in the field.

“Since then, I followed IWC’s activities and opportunities closely,” said Sermet. “With my advisor, who is the director of the Hydroinformatics Lab at the University of Iowa, Professor Ibrahim Demir, we felt that our research proposal on affordable stage sensors fit perfectly to IWC’s mission and vision, and will hopefully be useful to Iowans to prepare for future floods.”

Sermet grew up in Izmir, Turkey, where he received his undergraduate degree in Computer Engineering. After his junior year in his undergraduate studies, Sermet joined Professor Demir in the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa for a summer internship. He is currently working toward his PhD in electrical and computer engineering through the University of Iowa, where he is able to continue working as a researcher in this center. During his PhD, Sermet has been given the opportunity to work on creating artificial intelligence solutions for environmental and climate issues. When asked what his favorite part of the research process is, Sermet answered,

“What I like about the research process is the excitement of taking on new challenges, audaciously brainstorming ideas and innovating novel solutions.”

According to the Environmental Protection Act (EPA), the United States currently has 2.7 million streams and associated watersheds with poorly monitored network of only 8,300 sensors. Sermet stated that the federal and state governments in the United States use stage sensors can range in cost from $3,000-$30,000, with an additional expense of anywhere between $1,000-$10,000 in annual maintenance costs.

“These expensive sensor prices cause challenges for effective data coverage, which is crucial for natural disaster mitigation, water resource management and climate change,” Sermet said. “This data scarcity led us to come up with a novel approach that will allow the development of next-generation stream sensors within the cost range of $100-$400.”

When Sermet takes a break from his lab research work, he enjoys playing basketball, going to different concerts and movies and discovering new places. Sermet mentioned that most of these hobbies were put on pause due to COVID-19, so he has recently picked up the art of cooking. He likes to create Mediterranean dishes in particular.

The well-being of people and our communities inspired Sermet to complete his research proposal on affordable monitoring practices. Sermet shared that, over the last 40 years, water related natural hazards, such as floods and droughts, have killed more than 3,500 people in the United States and have caused over $350 billion in damage. Water resources support a plethora of daily-life necessities, including providing safe water for consumption, recreation, irrigation and power generation. Sermet explained that, because of the dire need for safe water, it is vital to have a reliable, water resource monitoring system in order to diminish the loss of life and property that water related disasters can create. It is his hope that with his completed research, this goal can become a reality.

Iowa Water Center City Spotlight: Mason City

By Joe Otto, Communications Specialist at the Iowa Water Center

The City Spotlight series highlights ongoing efforts by Iowans living in cities to address water issues impacting their neighborhoods.

Suburbanization in Iowa’s cities and towns has been well underway since the 1990s and beyond. Homeowners in the suburbs enjoy closer-knit neighborhoods and quieter streets, but recently residents in two subdivisions of Mason City took action to combat a lingering exposure to flooding that has recently become more problematic.

Following a wet summer of 2018, Mason City is exploring options to better combat flooding on its east side. Residents in the Asbury and Eastbrooke neighborhoods met to hear the City’s plans to help protect their homes from future flooding. Damaging floods during the summer of 2018 caused the City to explore upgrades to their storm water and drainage infrastructure that was unable to hold back the rising waters.


The two suburban neighborhoods are located right next to one another. Both are in the Winnebago River watershed, but only Asbury is right along the Winnebago River. Five hundred and ninety-seven square miles of land in the Winnebago river valley drains into the Asbury neighborhood, including Clear Lake and the upper course of the Winnebago, from Mason City, past Forest City and Fertile, to its source at Bear Lake in Minnesota (Iowa Flood Center). Eastbrooke, on the other hand, sits along a small branch of the Winnebago, Ideal Creek, that outlets into the river just downstream from the subdivision. The drainage area of the Ideal Creek watershed above Eastbrooke is 9.4 square miles, which spans northward as far as 305th Street in Cerro Gordo County (Iowa Flood Center). Although these watersheds are very different in size, they do share a common problem. When floodwaters threaten homeowners on the banks of the Winnebago, the river is too swollen to allow water from Ideal Creek to discharge. The result is that both neighborhoods experience flooded basements and overworked sump pumps.


Two plans are under consideration. The first is to build a new drain with sufficient capacity. The current one was built in the 1980s, before these neighborhoods existed. In the 1980s the lands in question were farmed and tiled with 16-inch drains, but when then subdivisions were formed in the 1990s the tile was abandoned and left in place. In response to complaints, in 2016 the City redirected some of the tile into a storm sewer and cleared the system of tree roots. The cost to replace the old system is about $300,000.

The second plan is for the property owners to petition their City government to form a drainage district. Under Iowa law, residents seeking relief from overflow on their lands can form a special taxing district that exists apart from the city’s general taxing structure. Property within the district is taxed to pay for new drainage systems. Option two would require close cooperation with the Cerro Gordo County Supervisors and the Mason City Council, as both have jurisdiction in drainage district matters. Other cities have followed this route, such as the City of Storm Lake in Buena Vista County. If homeowners explore this option they might consider reaching out to their neighbors to the west to learn more about the pros and cons of forming a drainage district. Another source of information is the City of Spirit Lake in Dickinson County, where a drainage district includes much of the city as well as neighboring agricultural land. Mason City officials have experience in drainage matters as well, as part of a Cerro Gordo County drainage district, No. 17, lies within the city limits on the west side. The outlet of the ditch is Chelsea Creek, just downstream from the Mason City Country Club. An area of 2 square miles drains into this district (Iowa Flood Center). This option is expected to cost at minimum $50,000 and would enable residents to more easily request and pay for future maintenance and repairs.

The problems faced by residents of Asbury and Eastbrooke show the unintended consequences of developing suburbs in flood-prone areas. Their efforts to work with local governments, both city and county, to solve these problems is laudable and may provide an example to other Iowans living in similarly-impacted areas.

City Officials commissioned the Mason City-based engineering firm of WHKS to perform the study. As first reported by KAAL-TV, the recent public meeting was held on December 5th and was part of the planning process.  City Officials are accepting public comments on this project and expect to issue a final report by the end of December. Readers interested in commenting or learning more about Mason City’s planning process should contact the Mason City engineer’s office at or 641-421-3605. To learn more about the county’s management of a drainage district that includes lands within the limits of a city, contact the Cerro Gordo County Auditor’s office at or 641-421-3064.

Joe Otto is the Communications Specialist for the Iowa Water Center. He is a doctoral candidate at the University of Oklahoma, where he is writing a dissertation on the history of drainage in Iowa.

Do you live in a city facing a pressing water management issue? Let the Iowa Water Center put a spotlight on it. Contact for more information.



Works Cited:

City of Mason City. Commissioner’s Report: Reclassification of Benefits, Drainage District No. 17. Accessed 12-10-2018.

City of Spirit Lake. Drainage District #22. Accessed 12-10-2018.

City of Storm Lake. Drainage District Trustees. Accessed 12-10-2018.

Google Earth. Accessed 12-10-2018.

Iowa Flood Information System, Iowa Flood Center, University of Iowa. Accessed 12-10-2018.

KAAL-TV Channel 6, Mason City, IA. “Mason City Residents Share Thoughts on Flood Mitigation Efforts,” Accessed 12-10-2018.

Requests for Stream Sensors

From the Iowa Flood Center Spotlight

By Breanna Shea

As floods continue to impact the safety and economic stability of our communities, infrastructure, and valuable farmland, the Iowa Flood Center (IFC) requests your feedback to determine where additional stream sensors are needed to enhance the flood monitoring and prediction capabilities in your area.

With this in mind, we are collecting a list of proposed stream sensor locations from partners with localized flood experiences, knowledge of information gaps, and who are actively engaged in their area flood response. Please discuss potential locations of priority stream sensor sites for your communities with your local emergency response team and submit proposed locations by filling out the information requested via this link:

Please submit proposed locations by October 19.

We will attempt to leverage the list of identified priority stream sensor locations for additional funding and resources. It is our goal to help you with the installation and deployment of more stream sensors. Please note, the IFC currently does not have resources available to help with a large sensor deployment; rather, we are collecting information to demonstrate the need and show support for expansion of the statewide stream sensor network. If funding does become available, our team will assess your proposed locations to determine site suitability.

Our IFC sensors provide near real-time river level information at about 250 locations statewide, displaying data every 15 minutes on the Iowa Flood Information System(IFIS). The self-contained sensors are mounted on bridges and operate using solar power. The sensors measure river levels using a sonar signal, and data are transmitted via cell modem to the IFIS public interface.

For more information, contact Breanna Shea (, 319-384-1729).