Plattsmouth notched a major victory earlier this month when its flood-battered water treatment plant got back up and running, ending months of water rationing.
But the city’s ongoing battle with the waters of the Platte River isn’t over.
The river curves to the north of Plattsmouth. Sometime during or after the March flood, the Platte burst through its south bank about 1 mile west of where it joins up with the Missouri River.
That bank breach means a portion of the Platte is essentially carving a new route, a shortcut to the Missouri that has kept water flowing into Schilling Wildlife Management Area and surrounding Plattsmouth’s water treatment plant. A few private cabins sit nearby, too.
For months, the plant was accessible only by boat. Now, the water is low enough that it can be reached by workers in pickup trucks, but access depends on how high the Platte is running.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers discovered the bank cut sometime in May, after the water surrounding the water plant failed to recede much, said Erv Portis, Plattsmouth city administrator.
“Our plant and our well field are essentially islands surrounded by the Platte River,” he said. “Unless that’s repaired, corrected, it’s permanent.”
Fixing the bank will not be easy, or cheap. The area of the breach is on private property, outside city limits, Portis said.
“We don’t have the legal authority to go out and spend funds and recover those funds through FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) reimbursement,” he said.
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The corps is working with Plattsmouth to figure out potential remedies, said Dan Pridal, chief of the river and resource engineering section of the corps’ Omaha district. Rock and dirt could be used to close the riverbank breach, similar to repairing a broken levee, but that doesn’t solve the question of who will pay for or initiate the repair.
“When it first happened, the most expedient thing would have been to rebuild the bank to divert the river to what the preflood channel was,” said John Winkler, general manager of the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District. “As time went on and it eroded through, it became more difficult and expensive to do that.”
To continue to be able to reach the plant via Schilling Road, Portis said the city has talked with FEMA about securing funding to raise the road. That project will most likely carry a seven-figure price tag.
While temporary fixes topping $1 million — with more repairs and costs to come — have gotten the plant working again, that doesn’t mean the city’s water system is fully operational. Only one of its five wells is functioning after a wall of water fried electrical systems. Plattsmouth’s wastewater treatment plant was damaged, too.
It’s not unusual to see rivers create new channels or routes after the kind of flooding that hammered parts of Nebraska and Iowa this year, Winkler said.
“Along the Platte, the Elkhorn, the Niobrara, the rivers have kind of changed channels or cut channels and moved,” he said.
Those rivers are largely uncontrolled tributaries of the Missouri, with sporadic flood management controls like levees or reservoirs.
“You’re going to continue to see bank erosion and cuts like that,” Winkler said.