Story Eric Brown
The Fence Post

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October 1, 2013
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Drought, irrigation district efforts help minimize flood impacts in Nebraska

The drought may have caused headaches for farmers and ranchers in recent months, but it’s believed to have helped lessen the impact of ongoing, historic flooding in western and central Nebraska.

As of Thursday night, Nebraska was fairing the floods far better than Colorado had in earlier days and few major problems had been reported in the cornhusker state — thanks to parched river beds and surrounding fields rapidly absorbing floodwaters that were coming in, according to experts.

Also helpful, the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources worked with six irrigation districts along the South Platte, North Platte and Platte rivers to divert water once it became clear flooding was imminent.

The irrigation districts opened up canals along the river for floodwaters. That water, too, will soak into the parched ground, helping recharge the underground aquifer.

Officials with the department have told the media it wasn’t immediately clear how much water was diverted, but they believe the effort was worthwhile.

“Compared to Colorado, we’ve really been pretty fortunate here,” said Doug Anderson with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension office Keith County, referring to the neighboring state, where, in addition to deaths and billions of dollars in destruction, about 20,000 acres of ag land were hit by the flood.

Anderson said hundreds of acres of corn and alfalfa along the South Platte River in Keith County, Neb., experienced flooding. The corn, though, would be salvageable once it dried, he said, but the flooded alfalfa likely wouldn’t survive.

“We experienced some issues here, but when all is said and done, we’re not looking at this having a major impact on agriculture,” Anderson said.

Anderson added that — in addition to the help of the drought and the efforts of irrigation districts diverting water — Nebraska being a flatter state than Colorado also helped his neck of the woods.

Floodwater running out of the foothills in Colorado and out into the plains was moving a lot faster — causing more erosion — but was moving much slower once it made it out to the flat lands of western Nebraska.

Even with some things going their way, Nebraska’s flooding in recent days still set records.

The National Weather Service reported that the South Platte River rose to 14.2 feet in North Platte, Neb., to set a new record on Sunday. The previous record level of 14 feet was set in June 1935. Flooding covered some streets and much of a golf course in North Platte over the weekend, but the community’s sandbag walls and other defenses held up well, according to reports.

The river also set a record in Brady, Neb., at 9.85 feet Sunday — eclipsing the previous mark of 9.6 feet.

Records had already been set upstream in Roscoe, Neb., and Julesburg, Colo., — at the Colorado-Nebraska border — late last week. By Monday afternoon, though, the South Platte had declined to 13.76 feet at North Platte.

The Weather Service predicted minor flooding this week in several central Nebraska cities.

The river at Overton, Neb., measured 8 feet Wednesday morning, which was a foot higher than flood stage.

The Platte had dropped to 7.1 feet at Cozad, after cresting Tuesday at 7.39 feet. Flood stage there is 6.5 feet.

The Omaha World Herald reported in the middle of the week that the river was expected to crest in Kearney at 6.9 feet Thursday morning. Flood stage is 6 feet.

The flood was also expected to crest at Shelton by late Thursday.

“But everyone has been really prepared,” Anderson said. “We’re just not hearing about a lot of major issues.” ❖

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The Fence Post Updated Oct 16, 2013 03:35PM Published Oct 9, 2013 11:26AM Copyright 2013 The Fence Post. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.