AXTELL — Extreme damage from the exceptional early July flood was a big reason 20 landowners, mostly from western Kearney County, came to Tuesday’s Tri-Basin Natural Resources District Board meeting to ask for help.
However, they’re also tired of seeing constant flooding in their fields within the North Dry Creek and Lost Creek watersheds from storms dropping only a few inches of rain.
“I just don’t know where we’re at, what we have to do or if anyone cares,” said Max Murray of rural Kearney, adding that landowners had asked for NRD help several years ago to clear debris from the Lost Creek channel ago but saw no follow-up from Tri-Basin. “We don’t want to run more water on somebody else. We just want it to move better.”
Steve Roeder of Kearney said the bottom end of North Dry Creek “cannot hold more water, period,” and it is taking longer and longer to move water from the two watersheds to the Platte River.
Tri-Basin General Manager John Thorburn said the July 8-9 rain of 6-8 or more inches created “particular havoc” in the two watersheds. “Both had water that went places where there hasn’t been water or hasn’t been water in quite a while.”
Sign up for Kearney Hub daily news updates
Most of the damage began in the Funk-Odessa Road area of eastern Phelps County. A washed out Road 743 still is being repaired. Water moved east into Kearney County, past Highway 44 and almost to Highway 10, Thorburn said.
There is a drainage improvement project area in part of the North Dry Creek watershed. It is one of several Kearney County IPAs with significant flood damage to ditches and culverts.
Thorburn told the Hub that Cook Construction of Kearney will begin repairs soon on the Fort Kearny West, Whiskey Slough and North Dry Creek IPAs. He hopes Federal Emergency Management Administration funds eventually will be available to reimburse some of those costs.
Thorburn explained that IPAs are designed to move water more quickly, not stop floods — especially after 100-year storms. “But maybe they can help with more routine storms,” he said.
Creating a new IPA starts with submitting to Tri-Basin a petition signed by at least five landowners in the area.
Boundaries then are determined and “units” set based on land use and project benefits for each property. Landowners within the proposed IPA then would vote on whether to create it, knowing they would pay per-unit fees to reimburse the NRD for project construction and maintenance costs.
“If landowners want these kinds of projects, there are no federal funds, there are no state funds for this and NRD funds are limited, so most of it falls on the landowners,” Thorburn said, noting that some past proposed projects haven’t gone forward because landowners voted against them and/or it was determined costs would exceed benefits.
Clogged creek channels cause water to back up, Murray said, and there are several issues with culverts. “I’m just trying to get it (water) to move like it used to when I was a kid in the 1960s,” he added.
Thorburn said the problem area doesn’t allow for construction of a large reservoir, “so we have to keep the water on land or at least slow it down as it comes off.” He explained that upstream improvements during the years mean less water is being stored on farmland now.
One option in western Phelps and eastern Kearney counties is to use natural wetlands and potholes in fields to store water and develop “sort of a flood storage easement” payment for landowners who allow standing water after heavy rains.
Thorburn said tree growth along streams has something in common with cedar trees in pastures. “People don’t always see the seriousness of the problem until it’s pretty expensive to do something about it,” he said.
Everyone agreed Tuesday that solutions must involve entire watersheds.
“You fix a problem for one and maybe create problems for another. So it has to be a holistic approach,” said board Chairman Brad Lundeen of Wilcox.
He added that the board will try to do better this time to follow up with any interest in an IPA. Lundeen said a big factor is, “How much do you want to do and how much do you want to spend?”
Roeder said it’s important to get all beneficiaries involved in helping with a project, not just the neighbors who attended Tuesday’s meeting in the Axtell Community Room.
After a break, during which Tri-Basin board members and staff visited with the landowners, Thorburn said he expects a request from some landowners to have him mail petitions as the first required step toward looking at a new drainage improvement project.