LINCOLN, Neb. — Since their inception in 1972, Nebraska’s Natural Resources Districts (NRDs) have been building and maintaining flood control structures to protect lives, property and the future.
From Gering Valley in the Nebraska Panhandle to Papillion Creek in the Omaha metro, NRDs across the state employ a watershed protection approach. Utilizing floodplain management measures, NRDs design and build dams, levees, dikes, drainage ditches and other structures to keep flood waters from taking lives or damaging crops, buildings and roads.
In many cases, NRDs partner with state and federal agencies like the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to off-set project costs.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for every dollar spent on flood mitigation, an average of $6 can be saved in post-disaster recovery costs. In Nebraska, the benefits often go beyond cost savings as highlighted in the following projects.
Central Platte NRD – Upper Prairie Silver Moores Project
On average, there is one flood event every year somewhere in the Central Platte NRD, with a major flood occurring every six years. In March 2019, the District completed the Upper Prairie Silver Moores Project to reduce flood risk in northwestern Grand Island. When the Bomb Cyclone hit in spring 2019, an estimated $47 million in damages were avoided by reducing the flood risk for approximately 800 homes and businesses and more than 14,500 acres of agricultural ground. The project also removed nearly 1,600 properties from the 100-year floodplain, saving home and business owners approximately $1 million in annual flood insurance premium costs.
“In our initial planning we assumed a benefit-to-cost ratio of 13:1 assuming a 50-year project life,” said Lyndon Vogt, Central Platte NRD general manager. “In one year, the project paid for itself two-fold.”
This $24.5 million project included dam sites as well as detention cells to prevent water from flowing too quickly into the creeks. The Upper Prairie Silver Moores Project is a collaboration between Central Platte NRD, City of Grand Island, Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, and Merrick and Hall counties.
Lower Platte North NRD – Wahoo Creek Watershed
This year, the Lower Platte North NRD was awarded funding from the Nebraska Legislature for the Wahoo Creek Watershed. In partnership with the Nebraska Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission, Lower Platte North NRD selected 10 dam sites in Saunders County which have the greatest potential to reduce flood damages to agriculture, county roads and bridges, urban land, improve water quality, and enhance wildlife and aquatic habitats.
“This project will provide the final link for reducing flood damages in the Wahoo Creek Watershed,” said Tom Mountford, Lower Platte North NRD assistant manager. “After so many years of planning, it is very satisfying to see all components finally come together for completion by the end of 2026.”Lower Platte North NRD directors considered several potential methods to control flooding in the watershed, including levees, wetland storage, conversion of cropland, raising roads and bridges, building small or large structures, and wet and dry dams. The $19.7 million project includes 10 wet dams on sites south of Prague, west of Weston and west of Wahoo.
South Platte NRD – Joint East Sidney Watershed Authority
The Joint East Sidney Watershed Authority was formed in cooperation with the City of Sidney and the South Platte NRD to protect property in east Sidney. In addition to reducing flooding, the project also provides water quality benefits. The area upstream includes a mixture of agriculture land and commercial development, and stormwater runoff often contains high concentrations of sediment, phosphorus and nitrogen as well as oil and grease from parking lots.
The project includes vegetated bioswales (canals) and bioretention ponds that slow water and redirect it into the Lodgepole Creek while filtering runoff. The vegetated bioswales and bioretention ponds remove sediment, reduce soil erosion and filter pollution as the water drains. A fully functioning bioswale can remove up to 20-40 percent of pollutants and sediment from runoff. Construction on the East Sidney Watershed Project began in July 2018 and was completed November 2021 at a cost of $1.29 million.
Lower Big Blue NRD – Watershed Capital of Nebraska
The Lower Big Blue NRD contains 12 watersheds and is responsible for the maintenance of 260 flood control structures within the district. Structures include numerous small farm ponds, terracing, native grass seedings and earthen dams placed strategically along tributaries to provide flood prevention and soil conservation. The flood control and grade stabilization structures provide 110,000 acre-feet of flood storage, which is more than 35 billion gallons of water.
“The District’s flood control structures help limit flooding by controlling runoff from over 400,000 acres,” said Scott Sobotka, Lower Big Blue NRD general manager. “The structures protect lives and property while also providing stream augmentation, groundwater recharge, wildlife habitat, and public recreation opportunities.”
Today, the Lower Big Blue NRD working in partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service continues to implement land treatment practices for flood prevention and soil conservation in southeast Nebraska.
Papio-Missouri River NRD – Papillion Creek Watershed
Perhaps the most flood-prone area within Nebraska, the Papillion Creek Watershed consists of 402 square miles and drains heavy rains and snowmelt from much of Douglas, Sarpy and Washington counties – including the Omaha metropolitan area. The Omaha metro has long been prone to disastrous flooding.
“Papio NRD flood control structures protect billions of dollars in residential and commercial property, public/private infrastructure and economic activity from catastrophic flooding,” said John Winkler, Papio-Missouri River NRD general manager. “As our weather patterns begin to trend toward higher intensity rain events, in combination with rapid urbanization of our landscape, these flood control structures are more vital than ever before. It’s estimated that our flood control system generates a cost benefit ratio of at least $3 saved for every $1 spent.”
The Papio-Missouri River NRD is actively building flood reservoirs throughout the Omaha metro that provide both flood protection and recreation opportunities. Flood control projects are developed for multiple purposes and often provide the additional benefit of recreation including activities such as boating, fishing, camping, wildlife viewing and pedestrian trails.
Trails are built atop levees and flood-control reservoirs often develop into recreation areas. Habitat areas and wetlands are available for hunters and often preserved for interpretative nature study.
Nebraska’s flood-control structures are easy to take for granted as they quietly work behind the scenes. Visit more than 80 NRD recreation areas across Nebraska and consider the remarkable flood-reduction benefits they provide. For more information, visit nrdnet.org/recreation.
Throughout 2022, the NRDs will commemorate breakthroughs and achievements in conservation. To join in the celebration and follow the Natural Resources Districts’ special activities throughout 2022, visit nrdnet.org and follow #Since1972 on social media.
— Nebraska’s Natural Resources Districts