Aerial view of flood

KEARNEY — Is this week’s devastating flooding along Turkey Creek and the Wood River a reason to consider flood control projects in one or both watersheds?

“I think it certainly is something to look at and look back at all these kinds of (rainfall) events we’ve had,” said Kearney Mayor Stan Clouse, to determine their frequency and also take a closer look at Turkey Creek’s drainage system.

Nearly everyone was surprised by the amounts of rain that fell Monday night in south-central Nebraska with some totals in the range of 8-10 inches.

Clouse said people who have lived in Kearney their entire lives have told him they’ve never seen flooding anything like what occurred when the overflowing creek caused high water throughout the city’s hotel district and other south-southwest areas. The high water required the closing of Second Avenue, Kearney’s main north-south thoroughfare, from Interstate 80 north to 11th Street from Monday night to Wednesday morning.

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Some Turkey Creek water drained through the Kearney Canal near the hotels.

Clouse, who is an account manager for Nebraska Public Power District, said operators of the Kearney Canal — part of NPPD’s irrigation system — monitored the weather situation and regulated water in the system so it didn’t exceed normal operations.

However, they could not get access to close the gate where water is diverted from the Platte River into the canal near Elm Creek. Water is returned to the river at the Minden Interstate 80 interchange.

Clouse said the canals were monitored so they never reached emergency levels and the gate was closed at Kearney Lake so there would be no backflow of water into the canal.

He added that after gates are closed, it can take 24 hours to make a difference in water levels.

Clouse explained that the high water from rainfall runoff came from Turkey Creek and the north channel of the Platte River went south of the Kearney Regional Medical Center, and then to Yanney Park as it made its way to the canal.

Turkey Creek project

There was talk eight or so years ago about doing something about Turkey Creek flooding, but a proposal considered by the Grand Island-based Central Platte Natural Resources District focused initially on clearing channels of Elm and Turkey creeks to better move high water through the town of Elm Creek.

Interest shifted to a proposed multi-use 975-acre reservoir northwest of Elm Creek that could hold high Platte River flows and release it later when needed to meet target flows for habitat used by threatened and endangered species.

CNPPID General Manager Lyndon Vogt said, “We haven’t had anyone address that issue (Kearney flooding) in the past few days.”

He and Clouse talked about the difficulty of planning for events rarely seen, such as 10 inches of rain fallling in less than 24 hours.

Vogt noted that the devastating floods in many of the same areas of south-central Nebraska in March were a unique combination of rain, snow and a quick thaw of frozen ground.

“We don’t often see an event like this (week) either,” he said, with some areas within the CPNRD near Cozad and Lexington getting upwards of 11-12 inches of rain.

Former CPNRD director and Elm Creek farmer Marvion Reichert Jr. told the Hub local interest in the initial project involving Turkey Creek has waned because of channel improvements made by a new owner of land in what had been a bottleneck area.

The man cleaned the channel and made other adjustments for an irrigation pivot on the property. “That made all the difference between Elm Creek flooding or not flooding,” Reichert said, adding that while houses in the town have water in basements now, the amount of standing water was less than in past years.

“I’m not saying we won’t look at it,” Vogt said about a possible Turkey Creek flood control project. “I’m saying we have not looked at a major flood control project on Turkey Creek between Elm Creek and Kearney.”

Wood River grant

The CPNRD is taking a first small step to study possible flood-control improvements to the Wood River.

Vogt said an application will be made by Monday’s deadline for funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to study possible options for the Wood River from Chapman to the west edge of Riverdale.

He added that the area was set based on a grant limit of 250,000 acres of drainage.

“It’s a very tough issue to address because it (the river) is so flat,” Vogt said.

He emphasized that the process — study, plans, permits, design, funding, construction — takes a long time for such projects.

For example, Vogt said the Upper Prairie/Silver/Moores Flood Control Project that starts northwest of Grand Island took approximately 15 years to complete even after a decision was made to go forward. “It might have been 25 years from the time the idea first was raised,” he added.

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