People enjoying Flanagan Lake — the latest addition to the area’s system of flood-control reservoirs — might not have to wait as long as previously expected for a crop of new lakes to spring up.
And that could spark development in pockets of the Omaha area, just as it has around Flanagan Lake, which opened last week near 168th and Fort Streets.
The resumption of a decades-dormant U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study means lakes in the pipeline by the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District that had been expected to take about 50 years to construct now could be open to the public in as few as 15 years.
“It’s almost like an act of God this happened,” said Jennifer Stauss Story, the NRD’s spokeswoman of the possibly stepped-up timetable for a new string of lakes.
The Corps of Engineers and NRD will reopen a study of the Papillion Creek Watershed that hasn’t been touched since the early 1970s. The move comes after months of “intensive lobbying” of Congress, the Senate and the White House, said John Winkler, the NRD’s general manager.
The “re-study,” as the Corps of Engineers calls it, got the go-ahead in early June when it was selected to be part of the corps’ work plan for fiscal year 2018. It’s the only project in Nebraska selected to be funded this year.
“Due to the limited amount of funds and the sheer number of requests from around the entire country, this was truly a one-in-a-million opportunity,” Winkler said.
The re-study is a joint undertaking between the Corps of Engineers and the NRD, with each entity paying $1.5 million. It’s the first step in accessing tens of millions of dollars in federal construction funds that could speed up construction of the nine remaining reservoirs in the Papillion Creek Watershed Management Plan.
Those nine reservoirs come with an estimated price tag of $150 million.
The area is growing fast enough to require the lakes, which help collect water as paved development gobbles up land. Otherwise, water, which has fewer places to go once fields are developed, could overwhelm the natural creeks in the area.
An added bonus for locals: The lakes are used for recreation, too, drawing anglers and runners — and rooftops. The lakes often draw housing developers who are attracted to the recreational amenity of an NRD lake.
People like being around water, said Andy Alloway, who owns Nebraska Realty. And that makes lakes appealing to developers.
“It’s recreation, it’s lifestyle,” he said. “It’s not like there’s a lake on every corner.”
Getting federal funding to complete the reservoirs more quickly would mean saving local taxpayers money in the long run, Winkler said. It’ll allow the NRD to purchase land for the reservoirs at a better cost. And preventing floods, of course, saves money associated with damage, too.
“Land’s not getting any cheaper,” he said. “It’s continually getting more and more cost-prohibitive (to buy).”
The NRD’s reservoirs are funded by property taxes, state water sustainability funds, bond funds, federal funds and fees collected from developers when they sell lots.
Still, nothing is set in stone.
The re-study also has the potential to modify the plan, Winker said. The original study — which led to the construction of Cunningham, Zorinsky, Standing Bear and Wehrspann Lakes — was completed in the early 1970s. Much has changed since then — perhaps a few reservoirs are no longer required or different priorities are identified.
“Flood risk is one of those things that doesn’t really hold people’s interest because it’s really kind of periodic that these things happen,” said Brad Thompson, planning branch chief at the Corps of Engineers in Omaha.
But when flooding does occur, he said, the cost to deal with the damages is hundreds of millions of dollars more than the cost to construct reservoirs or other flood-prevention measures ahead of time.
The corps and NRD will look at the current mapping and modeling and identify any updates needed. Then they’ll look at what can be done to mitigate risks — that could mean reservoirs, channel improvements, levees or flood walls, or structural improvements to existing buildings. They’ll come up with a plan and take it to Congress.
“This is a chance to get ahead of it before there’s the flood risk right upon us,” Thompson said.
The agreement for the re-study will be signed in September and work on it will begin immediately, Winkler said.
Potential new flood-control reservoirs are:
» West Papio 1, near 180th and Fort Streets
» West Papio 2, near 180th Street and Giles Road
» West Papio 4, near 204th Street and Schram Road
» Dam Site 7, near 168th Street and Bennington Road
» Dam Site 8A, near 156th Street and Bennington Road
» Dam Site 9A, near 132nd Street and Bennington Road
» Dam Site 10, near Nebraska Highway 36 and Bennington Road
» Dam Site 12, near 216th and Fort Streets
» Dam Site 19, near 192nd Street and Giles Road
Photos: People take in Flanagan Lake during grand opening
A press conference was held to celebrate the grand opening of Flanagan Lake, Omaha's latest flood control reservoir that provides public safety for Omaha citizens and 730 acres of recreational benefits, such as a 220-acre lake, five-mile hiking/biking trail, park area and green space.