After watery devastation earlier this year natural resources district officials will study ways to reduce and even prevent flooding in central Nebraska.

Three area projects in the Wood River, Spring/Buffalo Creek and Mud Creek watersheds are within the Central Platte and Lower Loup natural resources districts. Other flood mitigation studies being conducted in Nebraska are the Lower Platte South NRD’s Little Salt Creek in Lancaster County and the Lower Elkhorn NRD’s Battle Creek Watershed. The studies, which were approved for more than $2.5 million, will be funded from Watershed Flood Prevention and Operations Act funds provided through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The CPNRD’s two grants total $1.35 million.

One will fund a Lower Wood River Watershed plan for 232,295 acres in Buffalo, Hall, and Merrick counties.

The towns of Wood River, Gibbon and Shelton experienced the greatest impact from March 2019 flooding that triggered a Federal Emergency Management Administration disaster declaration. Similar devastation occurred again on July 10 because of runoff from heavy rains.

CPNRD General Manager Lyndon Vogt said each NRCS grant is limited to 250,000 acres, which is why the study area will cover only the part of the Wood River Watershed from Riverdale downstream.

According to a CPNRD press release, the Wood River’s capacity is limited partly by the area’s flat topography.

Grant funds will be used to identify structural and non-structural alternatives to improve flood resiliency, mitigate flood damages and improve soil health.

“These funds provide the first step in identifying what is needed to address flooding within these areas and to design specific watershed plans,” Vogt said in a press release.

He told the Hub that some dam inventory work has started in the watershed and the grant will allow CPNRD to hire an outside firm to determine if a single or multi-structure solution is the answer.

The second CPNRD grant for a Spring/Buffalo Creek Watershed plan will cover 266,870 acres of Dawson, Custer and Buffalo counties.

A key issue is to mitigate flood damages to irrigation canal infrastructure and ag properties that result from frequent over-topping and flooding of the two creeks. Other goals are to address climate change challenges in the ag environment and increase Platte River base flows for threatened and endangered species.

Vogt said that for the Spring/Buffalo Creek project, USDA officials allowed more than 250,000 acres to be included in the grant application because two watersheds are involved.

The grant-funded work for both of those watersheds and the Lower Wood River will get a project or projects to the 30 percent design stage, he said, which will be information needed to seek construction grants or other funding.

The other central Nebraska project approved for study grant funds is the Lower Loup NRD’s Mud Creek Watershed Plan.

LLNRD General Manager Russ Callan said the study will involve 251,000 acres in southeast Custer County, including areas around Litchfield, Mason City, Ansley, Broken Bow and Merna.

The next step for the Central Platte and Lower Loup NRDs is to seek study proposals from engineering firms.

Callan said the LLNRD directors voted Thursday to authorize staff to prepare a request for proposal, but no timeline has been set to send it to potential contractors.

Vogt explained that USDA currently does not have a 2020 budget, so Vogt and Callan cannot say yet how much money was approved for each of the three grants in their districts.

Another area of flooding concern in the Central Platte NRD is the Turkey Creek Watershed, an area of extreme flooding in southwest Kearney and the hotel district during the early July rainstorm.

Vogt said there was a July 18 application deadline for the current round of natural resources grants, so there wasn’t time to prepare one for that watershed.

“We will keep in contact with NRCS and talk about including Turkey Creek in the next round of funding,” he said.

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