Memorial Day and Labor Day have bookended this bizarre period along the Missouri River.
The river is receding in the Omaha area, and some emergency measures are ending.
The City of Council Bluffs on Saturday removed the gate that had blocked entry from that end to the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, and the city opened the trail that runs north and south on the Iowa side of the bridge.
The atmosphere on the bridge, however, was hardly celebratory. The gray, rainy morning provided appropriate imagery for the fact that it will take months or even years to repair damage and recoup losses caused by the summer of flooding on the Missouri River.
"Every day it's going down, so we're pretty well pleased with that," said Terry Wheelock, a manager at Rick's Cafe Boatyard, near the bridge on the Omaha side. "But it's sure leaving a mess."
Just below the restaurant, Lewis & Clark Landing, the vast riverfront space used for concerts and celebrations, is filthy with soil, sticks and stones deposited by the river. It looks more like a beach than a man-made venue for festivals.
Wheelock said the floodwater lapping near the restaurant, and the closed road and trail nearby, dealt a blow to business.
"We've had to fight so many rumors that we were closed, that we were flooded, shut down," Wheelock said.
The landing between Rick's and the river remains closed, and City of Omaha spokeswoman Aida Amoura said it might stay that way until early spring while erosion beneath the landing is examined and fixed.
The Missouri River at Omaha reached flood stage by June 1 and crested 7.3 feet above that in July. It is expected to fall below flood stage — 29 feet — within three weeks.
Melody Gardner of Council Bluffs welcomed the reopening of the pedestrian bridge on the Iowa side.
Gardner, 37, loves to walk the bridge for exercise, and this summer she has had to drive to the Omaha side to get onto it. That inconvenience came to an end Saturday, and she emerged on the Iowa side with her husband, Daniel, after crossing the bridge.
"Either way, I get my walks in," she said.
Jim Wilken, 54, of Omaha also likes to walk the bridge. He wondered what would happen to the white houseboat that appeared on the Iowa side of the river this summer and can be seen from the bridge. The boat apparently became entrapped by trees surrounded by floodwater.
The river is shrinking back toward its normal channel, Wilken said. "It's still got a ways to go."
Although the river is expected to remain about a foot above flood stage for the next two weeks, the water level has dropped to the bases of the levees. The river isn't expected to cause more significant damage with overland flooding, and Council Bluffs and Omaha are curtailing patrols along the levees.
But the problems are far from over, in part because Council Bluffs and Omaha still cannot effectively drain rainfall runoff. As a result, emergency pumps continue to work along both sides of the river.
"We are still a bathtub without a drain and reliant on pumps to move stormwater," said Marty Grate of Omaha's Public Works Department.
Dave Pearson, hydrologist with the National Weather Service office in Valley, said the river level will remain steady for the next two weeks because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is pausing what had been daily decreases in releases from Gavins Point Dam.
The pause is necessary to avoid damage to waterlogged levees and dams from what otherwise could have been too rapid a drop.
When the corps resumes lower releases Sept. 15, the river will again drop. The corps' current goal is to release 65,000 cubic feet per second by Sept. 23, a nearly 30 percent decrease from current flows.
About that time the river at Omaha is expected to drop below flood stage, said John Bertino of the Army Corps of Engineers.
Even after the river drops below flood stage at Omaha, not all areas along the river will be dry, Bertino said. Some lower areas, such as N.P. Dodge Park and the Bellevue riverfront, will continue to be flooded.
The river already has dropped below flood stage at South Sioux City, Neb., and Decatur, Neb., Pearson said. It takes longer for the river to fall below flood stage at Omaha because more tributaries feed into the river here.
Farther downstream, near St. Joseph, Mo., the river is expected to stay above flood stage until October, according to the corps. That's because of the tributaries feeding into it south of Omaha and the large amount of floodwater filling the valleys where levees have broken.
"We've seen quite a bit of damage, but when water really gets off the levees and back into the channel, we'll really have a better idea," Bertino said.
A two-person celebration occurred Saturday morning on the pedestrian bridge. Victoria Hagge, 49, of Omaha and Rick Sullivan, 51, of Fremont walked across the bridge. He told her he wanted to see the flood damage.
"But I had a plan," said Sullivan. He asked Hagge to marry him.
She said yes.
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