A surge in snowmelt on the upper Missouri River is putting the squeeze on efforts by the Army Corps of Engineers to moderate releases from the dams that feed water downstream.
As a result, the corps has increased releases from Gavins Point Dam, the farthest downstream of six massive dams. Flows from that dam affect river levels in downstream communities such as Omaha; Plattsmouth, Nebraska; Hamburg, Iowa; and St. Joseph, Missouri.
More water flowing into the river isn’t what downstream communities want as they struggle to recover from historic flooding. But John Remus, who oversees the corps’ management of the Missouri River system, said the corps has to increase releases from the dams to save room for runoff and prevent potentially worse problems later in the season.
The releases by themselves won’t trigger significant flooding downstream, Remus said. The bigger problem for the lower basin will be spring rains.
Remus said the agency is reacting to a substantial amount of runoff from Plains snowpack. The amount of snow itself is not extraordinary, according to the corps. Instead, the problem is that warm weather is causing it to melt faster and in a greater volume.
Additionally, the ground in South Dakota is frozen, so snowmelt is simply flushing into the reservoirs as if the state were one large “parking lot,” he said.
Although releases have increased, the corps is holding back substantially more water than it is letting out because the reservoirs still have room. On Tuesday, the reservoirs still had more than 80 percent of their designated capacity for storing runoff.
On Tuesday, releases from Gavins Point Dam were targeted for 30,000 cubic feet per second. The corps plans to increase that to at least 36,000 cfs. The winter baseline amount was 20,000 cfs.
Rain isn’t forecast in the upper basin for the next several days, Remus noted. That takes some pressure off the corps. During the historic flooding of 2011, heavy rains combined with extraordinary snowmelt to generate a summerlong flood along the Missouri River.
Gavins Point is also the dam that handles water from the Niobrara River, where devastating ice jams and flooding occurred. At the peak of the flooding, flows from the Niobrara River were estimated between 170,000 and 200,000 cubic feet per second. Those flows are now down to about 23,000 cfs, but there remains “a lot of water” stored in the Niobrara flood plain and in the snowpack in the upper reaches of the Niobrara basin, Remus said. As a result, declines in the Niobrara are expected to be slow.
Rain is forecast later this week in the lower basin. Southeast Nebraska, southern Iowa and points south could see 1.5 inches of rain, said Kevin Low, a hydrologist at the National Weather Service. Along the Missouri-Iowa border, 2.5 inches of rain is possible, Low said.
Preliminary simulations indicate that the Missouri River could reach moderate flood stage along the southern stretch of the Nebraska-Iowa border. Worse runoff problems are expected near St. Joseph.
Extra disaster funding OK’d by Senate
Congress is moving forward on a disaster funding bill that would offer additional assistance to Nebraskans and Iowans recovering from catastrophic floods.
The Senate voted 90 to 10 to approve a version of that legislation Tuesday but still must work out differences with the House before it can go to President Donald Trump’s desk.
All four Republican senators from Nebraska and Iowa supported the measure.
“This is a good start, but we have a long road ahead and I’m going to continue to fight for Nebraska every step of the way,” Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said in a press release.
“I’m grateful for the initial down payment in this disaster aid bill,” Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said in his own release. “Our state has a long road to recovery, but Nebraskans will get the job done.”
Small business recovery center to open in Bellevue
The U.S. Small Business Administration is opening an SBA Business Recovery Center at Bellevue University to provide services to businesses affected by flooding and other weather events since March 9.
The center will provide a one-stop location for businesses to access a variety of specialized help, including SBA disaster loan information.
“SBA customer service representatives will be available to meet individually with each business owner,” said Tanya N. Garfield, director of SBA’s Disaster Field Operations Center-West.
No appointment is necessary. All services are provided free of charge.
The center is in the John Muller Administrative Services Building at 812 Bruin Blvd. in Bellevue. It will be open Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon, starting Wednesday.
Mobile post offices deployed to flooded towns
The U.S. Postal Service has set up mobile post offices in St. Edward, Osmond and Verdigre, Nebraska, and more are on the way.
The mobile offices provide all of the same retail services a bricks-and-mortar post office can. In addition, they will provide post office box service for those who were receiving their mail at a box at one of the post offices affected by flooding.
“One sign that life is returning to normal is the resumption of mail service,” said Dawn Bayer of the Postal Service. “Using a mobile post office allows us to quickly restore services to our customers who have suffered devastating losses.”
The St. Edward Mobile Post Office will open Wednesday at 1302 State Highway 39 and be staffed weekdays from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and Saturday from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. St. Edward customers who cannot collect mail from the mobile unit can pick it up at the Albion Post Office.
The Osmond Mobile Post Office opened Tuesday at 409 N. State St., with staffing on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Saturday from 9 to 10 a.m. Osmond customers can also use the Plainview Post Office.
The Verdigre Mobile Post Office opened Tuesday at 106 Third Ave. and is staffed weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to noon and 12:30 to 2 p.m., and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to noon. Verdigre customers can also use the Creighton Post Office.
Council Bluffs Police
The Council Bluffs Police Department has temporarily stopped taking clothing donations at the drop-off center in its lobby at 1 Ezra Jackson Way , but is still accepting donations of nonperishable food items, cleaning supplies, water and personal hygiene items.
“It will take months for these families to recover from this tragedy,” the department said in a press release. “We are completely humbled by the level of generosity of Council Bluffs and surrounding areas. It has been an awesome sight to see our lobby literally filled to capacity with donations.”
The department has already taken several loads to Mills County, and it will take several more loads to clear out the lobby. Once the storerooms are full in the Mills and Fremont County relief centers, the department will once again suspend donations until more items are needed.
UNMC offers advice on safe flood cleanup
To help farm and ranch families with safe flood recovery, members of the Central States Center of Agricultural Safety and Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Public Health collaborated with the AgriSafe Network to create an on-demand webinar that provides information on farm flood hazards and safe methods of cleanup and recovery. The webinar can be viewed at: attendee.gototraining.com/r/3044877948417814274.
Major safety concerns related to flooding include contaminated well water, chemical spills, human and animal diseases, and exposure to waste, bacteria and mold.
Hay bales, especially those that are wrapped, and wet grain in bins can harbor large volumes of dangerous mold.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides recommendations about proper personal protective wear when entering a home or building that contains mold at cdc.gov/mold/What-to-Wear.html.
Farm and ranch flood-related resources are available on the CS-CASH website: unmc.edu/publichealth/cscash/_documents/2019-Flood-Resources.pdf.
Free testing for private well owners
Two state agencies are offering free testing for private well owners affected by flooding.
Even without noticeable changes in taste or smell, residents are encouraged to test their well water if they had flooding, say officials at the Nebraska Department Health and Human Services and the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality.
All of the events are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The locations are:
» Columbus, Thursday, Nebraska Extension for Platte County, 2715 13th St.
» West Point, Friday, West Point City Municipal Building, 444 S. Main St.
» Fremont, Monday, Three Rivers Public Health Department, 2400 N. Lincoln Ave.
» Ashland, Tuesday, Ashland City Library, 324 Silver St.
Coping with stress presentation rescheduled
The presentation “Why Are We Sad (Stressed, Anxious and Depressed) and What Can We Change?” has been rescheduled for April 8 at 1:30 p.m. at the Scribner-Snyder Community Schools. Originally scheduled for March 18, the program was postponed because of flooding. It is free and open to the public.
Scribner native Kari Hasemann-Herbert, a 1980 graduate of Scribner High School, will present the program, which is sponsored by the area Lutheran Men in Mission chapter.
The presentation is for people of all ages. “The struggle is real,” Hasemann-Herbert said. “Life can be very challenging! How we take care of ourselves and how we THINK about our life and circumstances has a strong impact on how we deal with stress, anxiety and depression.”