Report: Above-average risk of spring flooding, especially on Missouri

Report: Above-average risk of spring flooding, especially on Missouri

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Missouri River flooding, Nebraska City

This file photo from last spring, looking southeast from Nebraska City, shows floodwaters from the Missouri River spreading across a breached levee and overwhelming Iowa 2 and businesses near Interstate 29. The National Weather Service said there is an above-average risk for flooding again this spring.

There is an above-normal risk of flooding again this spring, with the Missouri River creating the most concern.

That was the conclusion of the National Weather Service's first Spring Flood Outlook released Thursday.

The weather service said there is an above-average risk of the Missouri reaching flood stage from Sioux City south to Omaha.

Below Omaha, there is a "high likelihood" of reaching minor flood stage and a better than 50% chance of reaching moderate flood stage, according to the report.

"Below the Platte River confluence, it is a near certainty the river will exceed flood stage," the report said.

Other bodies of water that the weather service said it is concerned about the risk of flooding are: the Big Blue River, Wahoo Creek, Salt Creek below Lincoln, Shell Creek and the north fork of the Elkhorn River.

The biggest risk factors for flooding are the amount of moisture in the soil, which is way above average, and river and stream levels that remain higher than normal for this time of year.

Streamflows on the Missouri, both above and below Omaha, are above 200% of normal, according to the report.

The outlook for precipitation is normal, while other potential risks are below normal, according to the report.

There is virtually no snowpack in Nebraska, which means less water to run off into creeks and rivers. Unfortunately, many areas of eastern South and North Dakota have a foot or more of snow on the ground, most of which will eventually make its way into the Missouri.

Soil moisture levels remain elevated because of above-average precipitation that has continued into this year. Precipitation in much of northern and eastern Nebraska has been 150-200% of normal over the past three months.

The good news is there is very little ice on the rivers, so the risk of ice jams that can exacerbate flooding is low, the report said.

Ultimately, how bad the spring flooding will be will likely come down to the location and intensity of additional rain and snow, the report said.

However, there still could be flooding in some places even if spring weather is mild, because the Corps will still need to increase releases from upstream dams on the river to prevent the reservoirs from overflowing.

The Corps estimates 2020 runoff will reach 36.3 million acre-feet  — the ninth highest out of 122 years — so there will likely be significant water releases from the upriver dams. The highest runoff year was 2011 with 61 million acre-feet, followed by last year, with 60.9 million acre-feet.

Another complicating factor for potential flooding is levees that remain damaged from last year's floods.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday said repairs have restored Levee System L-611-614, which is around Plattsmouth, to its pre-flood height. The Corps also announced that six of seven breaches on Levee System L-575, near the Cass-Otoe County border, have been repaired, and the seventh breach should be fixed by March 1.

“Having the L-611-614 Levee System back to its full height is a monumental milestone in the repair process," Mary Darling, project manager for the Omaha District Systems Restoration Team, said in a news release. "This will provide an added level of risk reduction to the communities and landowners behind the levee as they continue their efforts to rebuild.”

The status of the levees varies greatly. In Nebraska and Iowa, many of the major levees have been patched, although some breaches remain open. In Kansas and Missouri, much of the repair work has yet to begin.

"Significant flood risk remains in areas behind the federal levee systems in Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri," the Corps says on its website. "Water is still flowing through many breaches and other non-flowing breaches and damaged levee sections are at risk for water to flow behind the levee in the event of rising river levels."

Overall, about half of the levees still need to be repaired, and officials say it will likely take two years to complete all of them.

And that doesn't even account for the damage to private levees.

Farmer Gene Walter noted that the private levees that used to protect his cropland north of Council Bluffs, Iowa, remain wide open. Repairs won’t be complete in time for typical spring flooding in March. So it could be a day-to-day decision for Walter on which acres to plant.

“You can’t even plan or make plans," Walter said. "It’s kind of upsetting.”

The weather service plans to update its flood outlook on Feb. 27 and March 12.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.

This article contains material from The Associated Press

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