Missouri River valley shows effects of earth-work needed to repair levees (copy)

Pools of water show where contractors dug up sand to fill the levee breach south of Hamburg, Iowa.

A year ago this month, flooding brought catastrophic devastation to the Midlands. Lamentably, this spring could bring a repeat in many areas. It’s vital that our area maximize our ability to carry out repairs as quickly as possible.

Federal legislation now before Congress can provide such a tool. It would provide federal reimbursement so that local authorities, such as Nebraska’s natural resources districts, could carry out levee repairs and other flood-related relief as a supplement to work by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Sen. Deb Fischer has introduced the proposal in the Senate, and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry has introduced the House version. Fortenberry last week designated it as one of his formal legislative priorities.

Passage by Congress is imperative. This would be one of the biggest supports the federal government could give our region in confronting the threat from such large-scale flooding.

“If this authority would have been in place during the 2019 flood,” said John Winkler, general manager of the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District, the NRD “would have been able to mobilize and make repairs to flood-damaged infrastructure in a matter of days to prevent further damage from occurring and protect our citizens.”

Fortenberry testified on the legislation last week before a House subcommittee. “The goal is to reduce the time between disaster and repair/recovery,” he told lawmakers. “It’s also important to emphasize the cost component, since local sponsors are often able to make certain repairs for much less than the price paid by the federal government.”

Calling the approach a “force multiplier for the corps,” Winkler notes that such federal support would have enabled the NRD to repair infrastructure such as the Union Dike along the Platte River, for protection of Valley and the nearby area. “With this law change,” Winkler said, “the NRD could make those repairs and get reimbursed by the federal government for the work. Simply put, the measure enhances speed and efficiency of flood emergency repairs.”

Members of Congress, regardless of what part of the country they hail from, need to understand how important this federal support can truly be in helping local communities. In many Midlands communities, the destruction and disruption from the 2019 flooding were almost beyond imagining. This year, a repeat of the flood threat is quite real. The National Weather Service, in preparation, is proposing changes to its definition of flood stages on the Missouri River at Blair and Omaha, which could mean issuing flood watches earlier.

Congress can help greatly by saying yes to the Fischer/Fortenberry legislation.

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