Watersheds Structures Fulfilled Their Mission Of Preventing Floods

NRCS says excessive rains in parts of southeast Nebraska challenged capacity of watershed dams.

Published on: Jun 18, 2013

Powerful storms this spring dumped more than 9 inches of rain in parts of southeast Nebraska, leaving individuals affected by the resulting flooding. But it could have been worse without the extensive watershed structures built over the years in Gage and Saline counties.

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, with assistance from the Lower Big Blue Natural Resources District, built the flood control structures through the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act. NRCS provided more than $18 million to build 165 flood-control structures in the two counties. The funds aided with the planning and building of these structures, including small dams and grade stabilization structures, and in applying conservation practices like no-till, terraces and waterways.

Swan 60, located in the Swan Creek in Saline County, is functioning as designed, capturing flood waters behind the dam. It is slowing releasing water through the outlet pipe. NRCS photo by Jayme Dick-Burkey
Swan 60, located in the Swan Creek in Saline County, is functioning as designed, capturing flood waters behind the dam. It is slowing releasing water through the outlet pipe. NRCS photo by Jayme Dick-Burkey

The Lower Big Blue NRD sponsored the project and purchased the land rights for the flood control structures.

The structures 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, says Arlis Plummer, NRCS hydraulic engineer.

In all, he says, flood control structures in Gage and Saline counties helped prevent over $9 million in damages from the recent storms.

Kelli Evans, NRCS district conservationist in the Beatrice USDA Service Center, surveyed the effects of the heavy rainfall.  "Even though several county roads received flash flood water damage, it could have been much worse if these flood control structures had not been in place," she says.

With nearly 900 watershed dams constructed statewide, the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act has benefited more than1.6 million acres in Nebraska. The total benefits to Nebraska exceed $37 million each year, according to NRCS.

The recent heavy rain events have also demonstrated the importance of good soil conservation practices in the area. Corey Brubaker, NRCS agronomist, says 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," explains. 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."

For more information on installing conservation practices, contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service office located, or learn more at www.ne.nrcs.usda.gov.

Source: NRCS