Watershed structures prevent flooding damage in southeastern Nebraska

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BEATRICE, Neb. -- The storms over Labor Day weekend could have dampened more than just the spirits of Husker fans if not for the conservation practices in place throughout southeast Nebraska. Last weekend’s storms dumped over five inches of rain causing flooding in some areas. Flooding could have been worse if not for the watershed control structures in Jefferson, Gage and Saline counties, according to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

NRCS, with assistance from the Lower Big Blue Natural Resources District, has constructed many flood control structures in Jefferson, Gage and Saline counties through the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act. These flood control structures help slow and capture flood water, helping reduce damages to fields, roads and property.

The Lower Big Blue NRD sponsored the watershed project and purchased the land rights in order to build the flood control structures. NRCS provided engineering expertise and over $18 million to construct the 165 floodwater control structures throughout watersheds in Jefferson, Gage and Saline counties.

Flood control structures may easily go unnoticed across the landscape. But after a heavy rain event, like what was recently experienced in southeast Nebraska, these structures spring into action. They capture rushing flood water and hold the water back allowing it to be slowly released downstream. Slowing the water down and allowing it to be gradually released reduces damage to roads, bridges, fences, cropland and other property.

According to NRCS Hydraulic Engineer Arlis Plummer, the existing flood control structures in Jefferson, Gage and Saline counties helped prevent over $4 million in flood damages from the recent storms.

“With big rain events like this we really see the benefit of flood control structures. They work together with conservation practices to prevent damage to infrastructure. When things like roads and bridges are spared from damages, then we’re talking about a lot of dollars saved,” Plummer said.

Scott Sobotka, assistant manager of the Lower Big Blue NRD in Beatrice surveyed the effects of the heavy rainfall. He saw how the flood control structures and conservation practices worked together to lessen the damage from the heavy rainfall.

“Even though several flash flood warnings were issued, things could have been a lot worse if these flood control structures had not been in place,” Sobotka said.

With nearly 900 watershed dams constructed statewide the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act has benefited over 1.6 million acres in Nebraska. Benefits include significant savings in soil erosion, water conservation, road and bridge damage reduction, wetland/upland wildlife habitat creation and most importantly, saved lives and property. The total benefits to Nebraska exceed $80 million each year according to NRCS.

The recent heavy rain events have also demonstrated the importance of good soil conservation practices. According to Kelli Evans, district conservationist at the NRCS office in Beatrice, conservation practices like no-till, terraces, waterways and buffer strips protected fields from significant erosion.

“Heavily tilled fields with no terraces or waterways have seen a lot of soil erosion. The fields where conservation practices were in place fared much better. This is because terraces and waterways help slow rainwater down reducing damages from heavy rains. No-till fields also saw less erosion since no-till helps protect the soil with last year’s crop residue. This residue helps capture the rainwater before it can run off fields, allowing it to soak in to the soil,” Evans said.

For more information on installing conservation practices on your land to help prevent erosion and reduce flooding, contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service office located in the USDA Service Center, or learn more at www.ne.nrcs.usda.gov.