Dams Protect Lives and Property During Intense Rainstorms

Dams Protect Lives and Property During Intense Rainstorms
Lake Wanahoo near Wahoo, Nebraska, effectively managed floodwaters during the May 20-21 rain event, slowing water flow for 36 hours and holding back nearly 7 feet of water above its permanent pool. Lake Wanahoo is managed by Lower Platte North NRD.
May 23rd, 2024 | News Release

LINCOLN, Nebraska – Amid a series of intense rainstorms, eastern Nebraska faced a deluge that brought up to 10 inches of rain within hours. Thanks to a network of floodwater-reduction dams, lives were saved, and property damage was significantly mitigated.

These dams, built through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in partnership with Nebraska’s Natural Resources Districts (NRDs), proved their worth during this extreme weather event on May 21.

Within the 51,000-acre Bellwood Creek Watershed, 13 dams south of Bellwood, Nebraska, in Butler County, prevented an estimated $1 million in damages to downstream property and infrastructure. The Lower Platte North NRD is responsible for the operation and maintenance of these 13 structures.

Similarly, the 34,000-acre Cottonwood Creek sub-watershed, northwest of Wahoo, Nebraska, in Saunders County, benefitted from 12 dams that prevented an estimated $300,000 in damages. Despite these protective measures, the town of Wahoo still experienced significant flooding. However, the presence of the dams helped reduce the overall impact. The towns of Prague and Malmo also saw benefits from these dams. The Lower Platte North NRD manages these structures.

“While we understand we will never able to control all flooding we are working hard to reduce flooding and flood-related damages throughout our 1 million+ acre district,” said Eric Gottschalk, Lower Platte North NRD general manager.

In the 63,000-acre North Oak sub-watershed, spanning portions of Butler, Saunders and Lancaster Counties, 16 dams prevented an estimated $800,000 in property and infrastructure damage. The towns of Valparaiso and Raymond are located within this watershed. The Lower Platte South NRD oversees the maintenance of these dams.

“NRCS has been a proud partner with Natural Resources Districts by providing technical and financial assistance for over 50 years,” said Nebraska NRCS State Conservationist Rob Lawson. “One of our priorities is assisting local sponsors in identifying and completing floodwater prevention projects to enhance public safety and reduce property damage. The performance of these watersheds structures is a proud accomplishment for NRCS, NRD sponsors, and the stakeholders who implemented this infrastructure.”

Lawson added that many residents within these watersheds or downstream may not realize the existence of these dams, but their value becomes evident during torrential rain events.

Recognizing the ongoing flood risks, the Lower Platte North NRD and NRCS approved the Upper Wahoo Creek Watershed Plan in 2022. This $19.7 million project aims to construct nine floodwater-reduction dams within a 100-square-mile area in the Wahoo Creek Watershed, generally located west of Wahoo, in Saunders County. The plan includes the construction of nine wet dams on sites south of Prague, west of Weston, and west of Wahoo.

“This project provides a critical link in reducing flood damages in the Wahoo Creek Watershed,” Gottschalk said. “After many years of planning, it is satisfying to see all components come together for completion by the end of 2026.”

Since their inception in 1972, Nebraska’s Natural Resources Districts have been building and maintaining flood control structures to protect lives, property and the future.NRDs have taken on the operations and maintenance of watershed dams built with federal support from NRCS.

Nebraska’s extensive network of over 700 watershed structures is a critical component of its flood reduction infrastructure. The Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Operations (WFPO) Act, also known as PL-566, authorizes the NRCS to assist local organizations and government units in planning and implementing watershed projects. Nebraska’s NRDs have effectively utilized this federal funding in partnership with NRCS to enhance flood protection across the state.

The Nebraska Association of Resources Districts (NARD), the trade association for Nebraska’s 23 Natural Resources Districts (NRD), works with individual districts to protect lives, property, and the future of Nebraska’s natural resources. NRDs are unique to Nebraska, and act as local government entities with broad responsibilities to protect Nebraska’s natural resources. Major Nebraska river basins form the boundaries of the 23 NRDs, enabling districts to respond to local conservation and resource management needs. Learn more about Nebraska’s NRDs at www.nrdnet.org.


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