PERU - Flooding from the Missouri River in southeast Nebraska, southwest Iowa and northwest Missouri isn't going away anytime soon and one Nebraska lawmaker is concerned about the water freezing in the near future.

There aren't a whole lot of positives for an area that has battled the "most widespread and costliest natural disaster in Nebraska history" since the middle of March, according to State Senator Julie Slama. But one piece of good news is the Highway 136 Bridge at Brownville is estimated to reopen on Oct. 31.

Flooding continues to affect around 8,000 acres of farmland in Nemaha County. Releases at Gavins Point Dam are up, causing water levels in Peru to rise to levels the town hasn't seen since the end of March. Floodwaters won't recede until the river, which is two miles away from the edge of Peru, is back in its banks.

With cooler temperatures approaching, Slama - who serves Peru and all of southeast Nebraska in District 1 - is concerned about the water freezing. She says Peru would be lucky if the water recedes before the end of December. When the water freezes, it'll compromise the already affected farmland under water, damage assessments on levees can't be done and repairs to levees won't happen until the water has fully receded.

Repairs to the levee upstream of Peru won't happen anytime soon, Slama says. The levee was on an inactive list.

"It was only on the inactive list for a single-set of paperwork that was not filled out that had no impact on the outcome on whether or not this levee failed," Slama said. "Moreover, there were levees with far greater deficiencies on the Iowa and the Missouri sides of the river that were on the inactive list, as well, and have already been repaired along Interstate 29. We were told by the Corps of Engineers, 'if this levee was along I-29, it'd be repaired already."

As long as the levee is not repaired, people won't be able to return to their homes. Some may never be able to return.

The Peru Drainage Board maintains the levee and is in charge of making the decision of adding the levee to the "active or inactive list." The board works with an annual budget of about $25,000.

Slama is working with Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, the Federal Delegation and Corps of Engineers to try and get the Peru levee fixed. 

She plans to introduce a resolution in the upcoming legislative session to rewrite the Corps of Engineers manual - the rule book they operate by in terms of releases upstream and coordinating measures downstream - to prioritize flood control again. The last time the manual was adjusted for flooding was in 2004.

"They were asked to prioritize wildlife management and habitat protection over flood control," Slama said. "We've seen this year, and in 2011, what that can do to not only habitats downstream, but also the lives and livelihoods of people downstream, as well. I will be introducing a resolution to ask Congress to change that manual back to the pre-2004 directives."

Slama says she will continue to bring attention to the ongoing disaster and will fight to get the resources people need to get back to business as usual in southeast Nebraska.

 

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