Major flood-risk study launches in Omaha metro area

December 3, 2018

Local and federal officials are launching a comprehensive analysis of flood risk in the greater Omaha metro, and where it could lead is anyone’s guess.

More dams? Levees? Buyouts?

Everything’s on the table, including a dormant proposal for controversial dams that would flood a significant portion of the Big Papio Valley in Washington County.

Those dams, proposed in 2004 by the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District, would have created a major recreational lake north of Omaha that would have significantly increased flood protection for the city. About 100 land owners would have lost property, and they fought a bitter battle against the NRD.

The three-year, $3 million study is jointly funded by the NRD and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Tiffany Vanosdall, project manager for the Corps of Engineers, said the study isn’t being undertaken with any particular solution in mind.

“We don’t have our sights on anything,” she said. “We have to take a look at everything.”

Because the federal government is involved, all potential solutions must be examined, she said.

“It doesn’t mean we’re going to implement it, but we have to look at it,” Vanosdall said.

Two public meetings — public input is required by federal environmental law — are scheduled next week. They will be:

Monday, 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Concordia High School (commons area), 15656 Fort St.Wednesday, 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Chalco Hills Recreation Area, 8901 S. 154th St.

Public input is encouraged, she said. Some people may want the Corps and NRD to know about wetlands; others may want to call attention to a drainage problem.

In the 1970s, the Corps built a number of major lakes in the Omaha metro area for flood control. Since then, the NRD has done most of the metro’s dam building, typically in partnership with developers.

John Winkler, general manager of the NRD, said the district has nine dams on the drawing board, six of which are priorities.

But other solutions are on the table, too, he said. Do people want their homes elevated? Are they interested in a buyout? Is there a need to raise or extend levees?

Winkler said the evaluation will look at everything from new rainfall data to changes in the landscape.

The study will examine costs and benefits of solutions and the standards will likely vary. In some cases, a 500-year flood risk may be used. In other cases, it won’t be such a strict standard.

The Omaha metro area has about 4,700 structures worth about $1.9 billion in the 500-year floodplain. About 6,200 people live in that area.

“We are lucky to be able to re-evaluate everything,” he said. “There’s still a risk.”

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