PLATTSMOUTH – Despite the city of Plattsmouth and other nearby communities being surrounded by water, with the Missouri River and Platte River gushing out of their banks, potable water is scarcer than ever before.
Mayor Paul Lambert: “We’ve got to conserve water. We don’t want to be in a position where we don’t have any water,” he said at the city council’s March 18 meeting.
Last Thursday, combinations of melting snows in the Dakotas and Wyoming, recent rainstorms in southeast Nebraska and Gavin’s Point dam water releases of 90,000 cubic feet per second contributed to flood conditions in many southeast Nebraska communities resulting in flooded homes, streets, businesses and offline water treatment plants and sewage treatment plants.
Plattsmouth residents, however, are better off than those in many towns, because during the 2011 Missouri River floods, former Public Works Director Gary Hellwig suggested forging a water cross connection with the Rural Water District to provide water supplies in the event another flood occurred. Rural Water officials approved the agreement, which now has it providing water to the area.
City Administrator Erv Portis: “Glenwood (Iowa) shut their water system down with no back up as did many other communities across the state.”
At this point, however, Plattsmouth residents are consuming more than the Rural Water District, now headed by Hellwig, can continue to supply even with Plattsmouth Public Schools, one of the city’s large water users, not in session.
During the winter months when water usage is obviously lower than summer, Plattsmouth residents consume 1.2 to 1.3 million gallons of water per day. The Rural Water connection has provided 1.1 million gallons per day.
Portis: “We are not keeping up with the demand. We will have conservations on how to conserve usage. Each business and household need to cut their usage by half.”
The conservation is necessary because present flood conditions are far worse than they were in 2011.
Portis: “It’s far worse than what we experienced in 2011. There is no quick fix for what we see. It will not be fixed in one month or two months.”
Lambert: “We’re dealing with floods of historic proportions that came on very fast. We’re looking at potential damages. There are a whole lot of people who have put in a whole lot of hours since last week.”
Portis noted the city’s public works employees, Emergency Medical Services staff, Plattsmouth and Offutt fire department members, Cass County Emergency Management Agency responders and local citizens all coordinated efforts to help people suffering from the flood conditions.
During the council meeting, Public Works Director Neil D. Froderman and City Engineer Steve Perry of Olmstead and Perry Engineering Firm showed council members and media representatives aerial views of the water treatment facility and water sewer treatment plant provided at no cost by RDG Planning and Design.
The Missouri River compromised the berm surrounding the waste water treatment plant and almost completely submerged it by 2 p.m. March 17.
Perry: “The digester plants have floating lids so trapped gases can escape, but the lids are quite high for what we normally see. There is probably water in there as well.”
Last Thursday morning, the city went to “100 percent bypass” at the treatment plant, Portis said.
Portis: “Everything is being expelled into the Missouri River.”
Lambert: “That’s why wading in the water is probably not a good idea. Stay out of that water. It’s filled with many contaminants and could cause diseases like typhoid. We’ve seen kids playing in it with all that raw sewage.”
The water treatment plant was also taken off line March 14.
Portis: The water has dropped but the plant is not operational. We’re fearing catastrophic electrical problems. There very well may be water on the second floor where the bulk of the electrical is.”
The clear well at the water plant was entirely full of treated water when the flooding hit and contaminated it.
Portis: “It is completely submerged in flood water.”
Wellhouse no. 4 blew out almost immediately. Flood water has seeped in Wellhouse No. 8.
Portis: “The wells are contaminated. Some may be salvageable, but they will have to be dismantled, rebuilt and disinfected before they can be brought back on line.”
Ice and logs knocked town electrical poles surrounding the plant, causing particularly dangerous conditions.
Portis said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been in constant contact with the city.
Portis: “Wednesday and Thursday night, my phone was ringing from the Corps. The communication has been excellent and they are wanting to determine ways to help us.”
Once the water subsides, the extent of the damage to the plants and city will be more accurately determined, but that day may be far in the future.
Portis: “Governor Pete Ricketts has declared a statewide emergency and asked President Donald Trump to do so, but it could be weeks or months before we hear anything.”
Vice President Mike Pence will be in Nebraska to survey the flood area March 19.
Portis said the city will making the flood relief applications to Federal Emergency Management Agency and Nebraska Emergency Management Agency.
Council members passed an ordinance providing the city authority to issue bonds for $15-million in funds to make repairs with reimbursement from these agencies.
Portis: “Typically, the formula is FEMA reimburses 70 percent, the state provides 12.5 percent and the local match is 12.3 percent. But we are still waiting for the state’s 12.5 percent on the 2016 windstorm.”
Lambert reiterated how well all the agencies, employees and citizens worked together to abate flooding situations.
Lambert: “I’ve always said our greatest asset is our people. We’re going to get through this and we will come out of it stronger.”