Offutt flooding

The end of the Offutt Air Force Base runway under floodwater on March 17, 2019. 

Now that nearly all the most critically damaged levees on the Missouri River — all on the Iowa side — have been repaired, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is making its first major repair on the Nebraska side.

This week, the corps hopes to award a contract to repair the damaged levees built to protect Offutt Air Force Base, the Omaha metro area’s primary sewage treatment plant and other infrastructure north of the juncture of the Platte and Missouri Rivers. Two levees totaling 18.3 miles are involved.

Historic flooding occurred this spring — damage in Nebraska is believed to be the costliest on record — when the Missouri River and its tributaries surged out of their banks following a storm that unleashed a torrent of rain and snowmelt.

If this contract is awarded as planned, work should begin in mid-August and be completed two to three months later, said Matt Krajewski, readiness branch chief for the Omaha district of the corps. The cost of the work won’t be known until the bids are reviewed and the contract approved.

The most serious damage to one of those levees, the 8.63-mile levee known as R613, already has been repaired by the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District. It protects Missouri River bottom land sandwiched between the Platte River on the south and the Papillion Creek on the north.

The upcoming contract will complete the work needed to bring that levee back to preflood conditions as well as fix damage to its companion — a 9.67-mile levee known as R616-613 that protects property north of the Papillion Creek, chiefly Offutt and the Papillion Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Once the corps repairs the levees, the NRD will begin the long-awaited project to raise the levees so that they will better protect Offutt, the sewage plant, transportation corridors and adjacent property. Devastating floods in 2011 and now 2019 have underscored the need for better protection in that area.

“The NRD is extremely appreciative of the efforts of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for prioritizing the levee repairs and responding rapidly to our requests in order to protect Offutt Air Force Base, Omaha’s wastewater treatment plant and the surrounding communities,” John Winkler, NRD general manager, said last week.

The NRD-led improvements to the levees are expected to cost $32 million to $35 million, according to Paul Woodward, groundwater management engineer for the NRD. Most of that work should be done by 2020 — with a caveat, he said.

“As delays continue due to high water and the corps completing necessary repairs after the flood, it is likely that final completion of the levee improvements won’t occur until early 2021,” Woodward said.

The improvements will raise the levees 1 to 3 feet and widen them 2 to 4 feet.

The NRD says it thinks those improvements will protect Offutt and the sewage treatment plant from flooding like that of last spring and will eliminate the need for the herculean effort undertaken in 2011 to save the sewer plant and Offutt.

The levee improvements are being funded by the NRD, the State of Nebraska, the Cities of Omaha and Bellevue and Sarpy County.

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