Southeast Nebraska Faces Flood Recovery and Continued Flooding

Congressman Adrian Smith (left), tours flooding in Peru with, from left to right, Peru City Councilor David Pease, Nebraska State Senator Julie Slama, and Mayor of Peru Darrin Reeves. (Photo by Allison Mollenkamp, NET News)
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September 4, 2019 - 6:45am

Nearly six months after flood waters surged through much of eastern Nebraska, some areas are still waiting for things to dry out. Rebuilding in parts of southeast Nebraska is on hold until the Missouri Fiver goes down.

Last week State Senator Julie Slama is led Congressman Adrian Smith on a tour of flood damage in Peru, which sits along the Missouri River in southeast Nebraska. In March, a levee breach flooded homes and farmland here. It’s a story that repeated itself all over the state, but Peru is dealing with a complication: the water never left.

“So yeah, down here we’re not really complaining about it being a long rebuild, because post-natural disaster you always expect that. We’re still in the midst of the natural disaster,” Slama said.

The levee breach at Peru, as well as other levee damage, have not yet been repaired. They can’t be, because water is still flowing through damaged portions of the levee.

According to the National Weather Service, the Missouri River is still above flood stage at three gauges in southeast Nebraska, including at Nebraska City, north of Peru.

David Pearson is Service Hydrologist for the National Weather Service at Valley, Nebraska. He says last week, before the river level decreased at Plattsmouth, four Missouri River gauges in Nebraska were above flood stage.

“But at Nebraska City, Brownville, and Rulo, they could be above flood stage all the way, potentially through October if not longer," Pearson said.

Those river levels, and therefore the flooding in Peru and other areas of southeast Nebraska, are dependent primarily on one thing.

“Right now all that really matters is the amount of water leaving Gavin’s Point Dam," Pearson said. "The amount of water released from the dam is around 70,000 cubic feet per second. What that means is that’s just a lot of water coming down the river, and until that gets lowered we won’t see much change in the river.”

Gavin’s Point Dam is on the Missouri River in the northeast part of the state.

Back in Peru, local leaders, including Slama, sat down with Smith in a city hall meeting room to talk about flood recovery in Peru. Slama painted a picture of the present and future in Peru.

“And we’re looking six months out and a few thousand acres of farmland are still under water, our water treatment plant has been compromised, the sewer lagoons are just gone, they’re completely submerged right now, and it’s not looking like that situation will improve until November, December,” Slama said.

Congressman Adrian Smith (center) tours flooding with Nebraska State Senator Julie Slama (right) and Peru City Councilor David Pease (left). (Photo by Allison Mollenkamp, NET News)

Once the water recedes, levee damage can be evaluated and potentially repaired. Slama says things look grim until the levee is repaired.

“We’re just going to run into this issue every single year from here on out because any time the river will get high, it’ll flood that area," Slama said. "So if the levee doesn’t get repaired, we’re looking at a complete loss of everything that’s under water now.”

Leaders are concerned, because the Army Corps of Engineers does not plan to repair the levee at Peru, because it’s no longer active in the program that governs flood repair for non-federal flood control projects like levees.

Peru City Councilor David Pease is upset by the Corps’ decision.

“Things all had to do with under-seepage, which this was not an under-seepage event, and the levee board didn’t do a good job over the years dealing with the seepage,” Pease said.

Not knowing if the levee will be repaired puts the city in limbo. The flooded area, which could continue to flood without a rebuilt levee, includes the city’s water treatment facility. FEMA will decide if the plant can be repaired in its current location, or if it must be rebuilt in a location less prone to flooding.

The water treatment facility at Peru is still offline, and the city is currently served by a temporary facility.

Slama said that facility has a countdown clock.

“The temporary water treatment facility we have up now has a lifespan of three years," Slama said. "So it’s good for now. It meets most of our needs. We may have to supplement with trucking, and there have been a few other ideas proposed as a supplement, but it’s not a long-term solution.”

The temporary facility has replaced bottled water for drinking, which the city used until late July. Local leaders say trucking in water cost about $400,000 since March, a cost FEMA will not help cover.

FEMA will help with infrastructure costs. Their portion comes to 75% of repair costs, and the state will pay for 12.5%. That leaves 12.5% for Peru to pay.

However, 12.5% is still a lot of money. Slama says Peru is looking at $20 million in infrastructure repairs. The town is only 800 people.

Of those 800, some face not only the general impact on the town, but also the very personal loss of their homes. Back on the tour with Slama, Smith pointed to empty, flood-damaged houses.

“Everything this side of the barricade is uninhabitable?" Smith asked.

"Yes," Slama said.

"So what are the plans for those? Just waiting on the levee…?" Smith said.

"...OK from FEMA to take them out. Clean-up will start in the next couple weeks." Slama said.

"So these up here wouldn’t be repairable?" Smith asked.

"No,” Slama answered.

Peru is waiting for an okay for clean-up, for decisions about rebuilding, but most importantly, they’re waiting for the water to go away. They may still have months to go before things dry out.



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