Flood notes: Record March runoff surges into Missouri River reservoirs; corps to take public comment

Higher-than-normal releases from Gavins Point Dam are likely into the foreseeable future because of the record runoff in March.

Rain and abrupt snowmelt led to March runoff that was almost four times the average, according to John Remus, chief of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Missouri River Basin Water Management Division. The runoff between the Fort Randall and Gavins Point Dams in South Dakota was almost twice that of the previous record for March.

As a result, the corps has significantly increased its forecast for runoff this year and expects to be sending larger-than-normal amounts of water down the Missouri River for the next several months, possibly even as late as November.

The agency is projecting that runoff will be 151 percent of normal.

The corps is attributing the high runoff to the 2 to 4 inches of rain that fell last month on heavy snowpack, causing the snowpack to rapidly melt on frozen, saturated soils.

There are six massive dams on the Missouri River upstream from Omaha.

Four of those are designated for major flood control, all of which have seen significant runoff.

But the impact of the runoff is being felt differently among the four reservoirs.

The two northernmost reservoirs, behind Montana’s Fort Peck Dam and North Dakota’s Garrison Dam, rose more than 3 feet and 5 feet, respectively.

But the reservoirs still have sufficient room to absorb the mountain snowpack, Remus said. Mountain snowmelt typically begins in May, and snowpack, which typically peaks in mid-April, is near normal, the corps has said.

But the reservoirs behind Oahe and Fort Randall Dams are near their capacity to absorb runoff, rising almost 8 feet and more than 16 feet in March, respectively.

The corps is pushing water out of those reservoirs to make room for future runoff, which means that Gavins Point, the smallest and farthest-downstream dam, must also let out more water.

The corps plans to increase Gavins Point releases to 55,000 cubic feet per second by early next week, up from about 39 cfs on Tuesday and 48 cfs on Friday. That will end up being Gavins Point’s second-highest average release rate for April, behind only the 58,000 cps released in 1997, another big flood year.

And it’s more than double the normal release rate for April, which is 25,000 cfs.

The corps will host six public meetings next week to take comment on the operation of the dams and reservoirs. These meetings are an annual occurrence and were scheduled before this year’s flooding.

Because the corps expects a large turnout for the meetings, some of the venues have been changed. Anyone planning to attend should double-check locations and times.

The Iowa meeting will be at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Sioux City Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and the Betty Strong Encounter Center at 900 Larsen Park Road.

The Nebraska meeting will be at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Fox Center Event Space at 424 Central Ave. in Nebraska City.

Proposal to give property tax break to flood victims stalls in Legislature

An effort to provide a property tax break for victims of floods, fires and other disasters stalled after a morninglong debate Friday in the State Legislature.

State Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard offered an amendment that would suspend property taxes on structures destroyed by flood or tornadoes until they are rebuilt. People currently pay property taxes based on the value of a home or business as of Jan. 1, so even if a structure is wiped out after that, the full property tax bill is owed.

“This is an opportunity to give people a break for something that was out of their control,” Erdman said.

Farmers who suffered livestock losses due to extreme weather get help from expanded aid program

SCOTTSBLUFF — Producers who suffered livestock losses due to the string of cold weather events stretching from January to March will be eligible for assistance under the Farm Service Agency’s Livestock Indemnity Program, Nancy Johner, Nebraska’s FSA Executive Director announced Tuesday.

The directive expands the window of eligibility from January 1 to March 30 for assistance under LIP. Producers also have a new deadline of April 29, 2019, to submit a Notice of Loss to their local FSA office.

“The Livestock Indemnity Program provides producers with a vital safety net to help them overcome the financial impact of extreme or abnormal weather,” Johner said in a press release.

“Extended cold combined with above-normal precipitation during the months of January, February and early March created an adverse weather event that has had a significant impact on some livestock producers. We encourage them to reach out to our office by the April 29 notice of loss deadline.”

LIP compensates livestock owners and contract growers for livestock death losses in excess of normal mortality due to an adverse weather event. The payment rate is based on 75 percent of the average fair market value of the livestock.

A livestock producer must file a notice of loss within 30 calendar days of when the loss of livestock is first apparent, however, due to the abnormal conditions in January, February and March 2019, producers with livestock losses attributable to the combination of extended cold and above-normal precipitation have until April 29, 2019, to submit a notice of loss to FSA county offices.

Livestock producers must provide evidence that the death of livestock was due to an eligible adverse weather event or loss condition. It is recommended producers contact their local veterinarian or other third party to verify and document losses to help ensure that Notices of Loss submitted to the FSA will be approved.

Once a Notice of Loss is completed and approved by FSA, an application for payment can be completed by submitting supporting documents regarding beginning inventory and losses. This may include documentation showing the number and kind of livestock that died, photographs or video records to document the loss, purchase records, veterinarian records, production records and other similar documents.

One report that the Star-Herald has heard from producers is that photographs need to be time-stamped with the date and time when they are taken (some digital cameras do this automatically). If you have taken photographs with a cellphone, bring it with you to the FSA office to help verify the date that the photograph was taken.

Producers may apply for LIP benefits at their county FSA office. For more information on LIP, or to locate a county FSA office, visit www.farmers.gov.

Additionaly, it was announced Tuesday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is also on the ground to help Nebraskans as they recover and rebuild. For a list of all the programs available, please go to https://www.usda.gov/topics/disaster.

In Nebraska, USDA has several crews conducting aerial surveillance in the federal designated disaster areas looking for stranded livestock. If you see stranded or deceased livestock, please report it to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality at 877-253-2603. USDA has contractors in place to remove livestock carcasses.