Residents in west Council Bluffs are pumping water from their basements _ again

Bluffs residents near the river pump groundwater out of their basements as the river rises and rain turns the ground soggy.

Linda Wood cast an eye toward the water being pumped into the street from her basement and voiced the thought of just about everyone in this Council Bluffs neighborhood along the Missouri River.

“I hope it’s not going to get as bad as 2011,” she said Saturday as she stood on the front porch of her home a couple of blocks from the levee.

Throughout the neighborhood, the results of busy sump pumps could be seen in the crystal-clear groundwater flushing out of pipes and into gutters. The water table that’s forcing water into basements and crawl spaces hasn’t risen this high since the historic, summerlong Missouri River flood eight years ago, residents say.

The Missouri River is rising because of heavy rain runoff and increasing releases from upstream dams. And now the effects are showing up in the Omaha metro area.

Interstate 29 is again fully closed from northern Council Bluffs to Loveland, Iowa.

Interstate 680, which links northern Omaha to Iowa, has closed. That brings to six the number of Missouri River crossings that are closed between Omaha and St. Joseph, Missouri, according to state roads officials. Only five crossings remain open — four in the Omaha area and one at St. Joseph.

South of Omaha, on the Iowa side, residents are preparing to evacuate if need be. North of Omaha, the Omaha Public Power District has shored up the flood defenses of the now-shuttered Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station. OPPD spokeswoman Paula Lukowski said the utility left in place the fortifications made during the March flooding and since shored them up in anticipation of the river rising again.

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The Missouri River is expected to rise another half-foot or so this week. On Saturday, the Army Corps of Engineers increased releases from Gavins Point Dam to 75,000 cubic feet per second, more than double what is normal for this time of year. During spring flooding, releases briefly reached 100,000 cubic feet per second as a result of the historic “bomb cyclone” that triggered a sudden flush of combined snowmelt and rain runoff.

This year’s releases from Gavins Point are the second-highest since the dam went into operation in the early 1960s. Past high-release years were 2011, the year of summerlong flooding, when releases reached 160,000 cubic feet per second, and 1997, when outflows from Gavins Point peaked at 70,000 cfs.

Releases from Gavins Point are expected to stay high into the fall and will be at 75,000 cfs or more for the next three weeks, which is the extent of the corps’ forecast for dam releases.

On Saturday, the river was at 30.6 feet in Omaha. It’s projected to rise to 31.3 feet this week. What happens after that will depend on rainfall.

Although the river is high in Omaha and Council Bluffs, it’s not as high as it was during this spring’s flooding, when it crested at 34.41 feet on March 17.

In 2011, the river reached 36.29 feet in Omaha and was high all summer as the corps drained record amounts of water from behind their six massive upstream dams.

Those conditions aren’t expected to repeat. Snowpack, while above normal and still melting, isn’t at record levels. And there’s space available behind the dams to meter out runoff. The dams have about 31 percent of their flood storage space left.

Missouri River bridges that remained open Saturday in the Omaha-Council Bluffs area were Interstate 480, Interstate 80, the Veterans Memorial Bridge on U.S. Highway 275 and the Bellevue Toll Bridge. Farther south, U.S. Highway 36 linking St. Joseph, Missouri, and Elwood, Kansas, was open. Additionally, U.S. Highway 30 at Blair, Nebraska, remained open Saturday.

Bridges that have been closed: I-680 in northern Omaha; U.S. Highway 34 linking southern Bellevue and Glenwood, Iowa; the Plattsmouth Bridge; Highway 2 linking Nebraska City and Sidney, Iowa; U.S. Highway 136 linking Brownville, Nebraska, and Rock Port, Missouri; and U.S. Highway 159 at Rulo, Nebraska.

In addition to the closure north of Council Bluffs, I-29 is closed from U.S. Highway 34 near Glenwood to just north of St. Joseph.

For an updated list of closings, visit safetravelusa.com.

Nancy Gaarder helps cover public safety and weather events as an editor on The World-Herald's breaking news desk. Follow her on Twitter @gaarder. Phone: 402-444-1102.

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