High levels, above-average rain predicted for foreseeable future
Safety is of the highest concern, Washington County Emergency Manager Dan Douglas said, as water levels on the Missouri River neared 30 feet last weekend and will remain at flood levels for the foreseeable future.
The high river, impacted by well-above normal precipitation and releases from Gavins Point Dam, has again left many areas along the river flooded or enacting safety measures while numerous roads remain closed.
About 50 percent of Cottonwood Cove Marina and RV Resort north of Blair was flooded, according to a Washington County Sheriff's Office activity report. Some campers at next door River View Park Resort and Marina couldn't be moved before the water rose, General Manager Scott DeTavernier said.
OPPD's flood protection strategies for Fort Calhoun Station have been in place since March.
DeSoto Wildlife Refuge closed again June 1 with water impacting wildlife management.
"Since the river has been running high basically since March, most everyone is very cautious about returning to their property and keeping a close watch on the water level," Douglas said.
River View Park closed
River View Park closed for safety reasons Tuesday and will remain so until further notice, a post on the park's Facebook page said.
DeTavernier said some people moved their campers before the water rose, while others could not. The river was at 29.39 feet Wednesday morning, and was as high as 29.51 feet Tuesday afternoon.
"We're just kind of waiting for the river to go down, so we can start pumping water out, and we can go do our thing," DeTavernier said.
He said he wants more direct communication from those monitoring and managing the river, like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, so those with property at the park have enough time to move campers or retrieve personal items.
"It's not a cheap ordeal," he said. "We just want communication to do the best for our members we can do."
High river levels could remain
The activity report from the sheriff's office indicated deputies were monitoring Cottonwood Cove and River View on Sunday and Monday. The corps increased releases from Gavins Point Dam to 75,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) Saturday as mountain snowpack continues to melt and rain runoff enters the river. That's nearly twice the average release for this time of year, the corps reported.
In 2011, releases reached 120,000 cfs by June 8. It takes two- to- three days for water from Gavins Point to reach Omaha.
Missouri River levels are expected to remain above 27 feet, half a foot above minor flood stage, until at least June 16, the furthest predictions available on Wednesday from the National Weather Service (NWS) Missouri River Basin Forecast Center.
May runoff above Sioux City was 8.9 million acre feet (maf), 267 percent of average, surpassed only by 9.2 maf in 2011. The 2019 runoff estimate is 50 maf, which, if realized, would be second to 2011's record of 61 maf in 121 years of record-keeping.
DeTavernier said he was concerned about how long water levels on the river would remain high.
"That's kind of our fear is how long is this going to last," he said. "It's statewide. People are being affected in Nebraska and Iowa."
Long-term damage, above-average precipitation predicted
Douglas said Washington County roads and possibly bridges are likely to have long-term damage. Numerous roads near the river are closed, including County Roads P51 and P49 southeast of Fort Calhoun.
"County roads (department) has been doing their best to keep the gravel roads passable," he said. "Patience is appreciated as the supply of gravel has been limited from suppliers. Slowing down on the roads is the best plan as they can get difficult to maneuver after heavy rains and especially low lying areas that are already saturated."
Smaller rivers and creeks throughout the county have been rising and falling with every rain, Douglas said, since surrounding fields cannot absorb more moisture.
"This rise and fall has put people on the edge, worried of more flooding," he said.
The Omaha area saw more than 7.5 inches of rain in May, three inches more than normal, or the average amount seen from 1981 to 2010. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association predicts a 40- to- 50 percent chance of above-normal rainfall for Nebraska and surrounding states through mid-August.
Road safety concerns
Douglas said people should keep their own safety in mind even if they are worried about their property which might be flooding again.
"For landowners, the repairs had just begun from the March flood when the waters took back over the same areas only a few weeks later," he said. "I understand the urgency to check on you property or take the quick way home instead of the detour, but I ask everyone to please follow the detours and do not drive on roads with water on them."
More road safety concerns may come from the closure of Interstate 29, which, on Wednesday, was closed from Loveland, Iowa to Council Bluffs. Blair Police Chief Joe Lager said many accidents happened in Blair when the interstate closed after March flooding. He said more cars means more opportunity for distracted drivers.
"When you are a cop, there are always concerns," he said. "We are fortunate to have so many major highways coming together in Blair. We are (also) cursed because we have many major highways coming together in Blair."
Flood mitigation procedures in place at Fort Calhoun Station
An OPPD spokesman said flood mitigation procedures have remained in place at Fort Calhoun Station since March when sandbags were used to protect the buildings and plant itself. The plant is in the decommissioning process after being taken offline in 2016.
Cris Averett said many employees who were shuttled from St. Francis Borgia Catholic Church in Blair to the station in March are once again being shuttled from the city to the site. He added that OPPD remains in contact with the corps and the National Weather Service about river levels.
"Maintaining the health and safety of the public comes first, so our emphasis at Fort Calhoun Station is protecting the site from floodwaters," Averett said.
Wildlife impacted at DeSoto, Boyer Chute
DeSoto and Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuges remained closed Wednesday. DeSoto closed in its entirety June 1 after a partial closure May 29. It was open for about three weeks in May following an initial flood closure.
Park Ranger Peter Rea said waters have restricted management practices and could have negative impacts on plants and wildlife. Current water levels are a big safety risk, he added.
"We have temporary levees up in some places," he said. "If some of those fail, it could fill up DeSoto in a hurry."
March flooding damaged roads and current water levels are preventing management personnel from completing autumn wetland and food prep for wildlife. Floodwater entering the refuge could also cause some trees to die and has likely brought in invasive fish species.
In 2011, floodwaters remained around trees through their growing season, preventing proper nutrient intake and even killing some trees. Rea said that is a possibility again this year should river levels remain high.
Asian carp, an invasive fish species, found their way into the refuge during the 2011 flood, and, Rea said, more probably arrived through flooding this year. Asian carp can damage native fish populations because they compete for food and space.
Though there are concerns with some plants and fish, Rea said other mammals such as deer should be OK, but there's not much refuge personnel can do right now.
"Overall, a lot of the wildlife will adapt, they kind of know to get out of there," he said. "Right now, there's not a lot we can do. It's just waiting for the water to go down."