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Editorial: Nebraska must put priority on flood prevention planning

Editorial: Nebraska must put priority on flood prevention planning

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Flood barriers now surround the water and wastewater treatment plants in Plattsmouth, which were damaged during flooding in March 2019.

Just as Nebraska is struggling under the virus threat this year, so in 2019 it reeled from catastrophic flooding. The call for a legislative study on building small reservoirs on the Platte River is warranted and points to a larger matter: overall flood prevention planning for the state.

The 2019 flooding brought devastation and tumult to Nebraska on a shocking scale. A federal report put the total damages at $2.6 billion, with $1.9 billion tallied in Iowa. Emergency declarations affected some 81 of Nebraska’s 93 counties. Steep waters swept away bridges, damaged highways and choked off communities — Valley and Fremont, incredibly, were turned into islands. Floodwaters damaged major facilities at Offutt Air Force Base. Along the Missouri River, powerful water flows breached levees. Plattsmouth residents suffered a terrible blow when Platte River floodwaters cut through a bank and surrounded the city’s water plant, damaging it significantly.

The Plattsmouth plant has been repaired, but the situation has understandably spurred State Sen. Mike McDonnell of Omaha to propose a legislative study about the feasibility of building a set of small reservoirs along the Platte for flood control. Analyzing the practicality of such a flood control strategy makes sense. That approach would be far different from the controversial proposal early this century to create a huge recreational lake between Omaha and Lincoln.

“If you size them correctly, you can eliminate the impact of moving people, well fields and infrastructure,” said John Winkler, general manager of the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District. “Let’s look at these issues that have been with us forever.”

In addition, flood control planning is set to move forward statewide through a task force created under a proposal approved this session by the Legislature. The group will compile an inventory of flood control plans. It also will assess the needs for protecting roads, bridge, dams and levees, and develop strategies to minimize disruptions of businesses and restore agricultural systems.

Meanwhile, Nebraska’s natural resources districts continue to pursue flood control measures, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has committed to work with Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas on a jointly funded study to strengthen Missouri River flood control.

The trauma Nebraska experienced last year makes clear the need for comprehensive flood control planning and, above all, energetic collaboration to implement those protections.

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