Flooding Arrives Early In Niobrara

Increased River Siltation Causes Water To Back Up Into Parts Of Village. What looks to be a ragged ice skating rink just west of Niobrara in reality is the parking log of Vic’s Service and Repair, a business that this last week was flooded by the Niobrara River. The Knox County community is no stranger to flooding — having twice in its history moved to avoid the rising waters. However, local officials say what is occurring on its western edge has never been seen before and has residents concerned about what is yet to come. “I have never seen the water come up like this, not in this area anyway,” said Jim Swanson, owner of the Flyway Cafe and Storage Units. “It came up, like, 12 inches in one night. We were over helping Vic clean up, walking in a foot of cold water trying to save as much as we could.” The rising water is being blamed on siltation in the Niobrara River. Unfortunately for the community, the silted river is a problem the residents knew was coming. “We have been seeing the river fill with silt for years,” said Niobrara village clerk Robert Olson. “It isn’t a new problem. They have been doing studies on the issue for years. Unfortunately, there just doesn’t seem to be an easy answer, and the high water levels this past spring and summer only made the problem worse.” Olson said that when the Missouri River is running high, as it did last year, there is nowhere for the Niobrara River to go, so the silt settles in the channel, raising the water levels and exaggerating the problem. “There really isn’t a clear answer to address the issue of silting in the river,” Olson said. “The silt is closing the mouth of the river at the Missouri, letting less water through it. When the water can’t flow through, it affects the low areas surrounding the community because the water spreads out and rises. It used to be there were farms and some homes in the mile or so surrounding Niobrara, now for at least a mile out there is just basically wetlands.” Olson said that the change in the silt levels can be easily seen when you compare the distance between the bottom of area bridges now versus in the past. “We were just talking this week about how if we had not had the new bridge built, the old one would be under the silt now,” he said. “The distance between the water and the bottom of the railroad bridge used to be significant, now there is almost no clearance. There is just no place for the water to flow, the silt levels have risen so high that the Niobrara is just spreading out and covering the surrounding land. We even suspect that it is forming a new channel to the east, but are not sure at this point.” Swanson said that during the winter, the Niobrara River will freeze and then water will flow over the top of the ice, which will then freeze and flow again, building up thick ice that covers more and more area. “Water travels the path of least resistance,” he said. “Right now, it is flowing in an area it has never done before.” James Swensen, regional parks manager for the East Region at Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, said the current flooding issues were reported to his office on Friday and surveyors were onsite Saturday assessing the problem. While he could not comment on the current flooding situation, he did say it is something that they are working on to help affected property owners. “This flood has been building now for more than a month,” Olson said. “All we can do now is hope for a gradual melt this spring, which will allow the larger-than-average snow packs the opportunity to melt at a slow pace. I am not sure what is going to come, but all we can do is hope for the best.” ((25 JAN 2011))









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