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CONTACT: GARY GALLUZZO
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0009; fax (319) 384-0024
e-mail: gary-galluzzo@uiowa.edu

Release: May 7, 2001

(NOTE TO EDITORS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS: UI President Mary Sue Coleman; Lynn Sasmazer, program officer for the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust; Jeffrey Vonk, Iowa DNR director; and others are scheduled to speak at the 3:30 p.m. MRERS groundbreaking. MRERS can be reached by taking Highway 22 about seven miles east of Muscatine to Fairport and following the black-and-gold signs to MRERS. Call 319-330-8714 on May 10, if additional help with directions is needed.)

Groundbreaking is May 10 for Mississippi river research station

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Mississippi River, the nation's most storied waterway, will move one step closer to becoming the world's most studied river at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, May 10.

That's when the University of Iowa's internationally renowned Iowa Institute of Hydraulic Research (IIHR) will break ground seven miles east of Muscatine near the community of Fairport for the construction of the Mississippi Riverside Environmental Research Station (MRERS), designed to be the world's most comprehensive river research station.

Existing monitoring stations routinely study such selected variables as flood levels, sedimentation, fish populations, aquatic plants, water quality, flood effects, and the impact of industrialization. MRERS, scheduled to open this winter, will be the only station of its kind to look at virtually all aspects of the river, according to V.C. Patel, IIHR director. "MRERS will bring together researchers and students from different disciplines to work on problems that cannot be addressed in the traditional way by engineers, biologists, and planners acting on their own," he says.

The idea to build the station originated from IIHR Associate Director Tatsuaki Nakato's 1995 five-week trip down the Mississippi on an 18-foot jon boat to investigate riverbank erosion between St. Paul, Minn. and Cairo, Ill.

"From early in the morning, to late at night, we worked on the river. I thought, 'How little knowledge of the river we have.' I was overwhelmed by nature's work," Nakato says. "Because there is no way we can simulate the Mississippi River in the lab; we need a good field observation site.

"The interaction between the lock and dam system and river bank protection; how the lock and dam causes silting but also creates wetlands; and why the fish population is declining -- those are some of the things we will study. Eventually, we want to have everything remotely sensed, but that technology is far in the future," he says. "This will be a facility where scientists in different fields, biologists, hydrologists and others, will be in the same boat and the same building and can teach each other. This will also be a great place for the education of elementary and high school students."

Because it will take a holistic look at the Mississippi River, MRERS may change the way other rivers are studied. Patel and Nakato say that is only natural since MRERS, in some respects, is modeled after two renowned organizations that take a holistic approach toward ocean research: Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego, Calif. and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Woods Hole, Mass. "In a similar way, MRERS will stimulate multidisciplinary research to assess the long-term impact of natural events and human activities on the river ecosystem and evaluate alternative strategies to protect it," Patel says.

Support for MRERS comes from a number of sources. The Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust of Muscatine provided $1.2 million for construction of the facility. Private gifts, including a classroom gift by Marie F. Carter of Bettendorf in memory of her husband, UI alumnus Archie N. Carter, and a gift to name a laboratory from Richard and Mary Jo Stanley of Muscatine, are also helping drive the project. The 7,400-square-foot building is being designed by Stanley Consultants, Inc. and will open in the winter of 2001. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is providing three acres of land to the university at no charge and with considerable interest in the station because the DNR operates a fish hatchery next door.

The Institute, a unit of the UI College of Engineering, is one of the world's premier and oldest fluids research and engineering laboratories. Students and visitors from around the world have come to IIHR to study and conduct research and to carry acquired expertise back to their home countries.