21 “potential sites” to build reservoirs on tributaries of the Platte River, report by Omaha-based HDR says

LINCOLN, Nebraska- — Citizens of Ashland were given assurances in a recent legislative study that the development of a large recreational lake between Omaha and Lincoln would not include damming the Platte River and drowning the town of Ashland. This was done with the intention of reassuring the residents of Ashland.

This concept, which was included in earlier proposals to encourage development between the two main cities in the state, sparked an outpouring of opposition.

According to the findings of a consultant’s assessment, however, this does not imply that dams should not be considered in other locations.

According to a draft of the final report that was prepared for the special STAR WARS committee of the Nebraska Legislature, there is no consideration being given to building a dam near Ashland; instead, 21 reservoirs located across eastern and central Nebraska should be examined.

The Platte River from Columbus to where it flows into the Missouri River at Plattsmouth was examined in this report, which was published in May after the Nebraska Legislature had finished its work for the year and adjourned for the year. The report looked at ways to reduce the risk of flooding along the lower Platte River.

The Omaha-based consulting firm HDR, which was responsible for preparing the research, zeroed in on 21 “possible sites” to create reservoirs on tributaries of the Platte River, including the Loup and Elkhorn Rivers as well as Salt, Wahoo, and Logan Creeks.

Funding for marinas, lodge, level

To be clear, the report does not recommend that any dams be constructed, and none of the dams were included in the $200 million legislative bill that was passed this spring to enhance recreation across Nebraska, as identified by the Statewide Tourism and Recreation Water Access and Resource Sustainability, or STAR WARS, committee. However, the report does recommend that improvements be made to existing dams to make them more accessible and sustainable.

The majority of the funds were put toward the construction of new marinas on Lake McConaughy and Lewis & Clark Lake, a new lodge at Niobrara State Park, and a flood-control levee in the area of Schuyler. However, $20 million was put aside for the purpose of further researching the possibility of constructing a massive sand-pit lake next to Linoma Beach in Sarpy County, and $26 million was dedicated for the possibility of actual construction in the near future.

According to the analysis by HDR, additional research would have to be conducted first before any reservoir construction on the tributaries of the Platte could take place.

Similar observations were made by State Senator Mike Hilgers of Lincoln, who is also the Speaker of the Legislature and the head of the STAR WARS committee. Senator Hilgers added that the committee was tasked with considering ways to reduce the risk of flooding, but that additional work on tributary dams was not funded.

Future study

“While it’s possible that the Legislature won’t prioritize those projects in the future, any other entity, such as a natural resources district, that has an interest in improving our flood control mechanisms in that area will have a head start as a result of the work done in this report,” Hilgers said. “This will be the case even if the Legislature decides not to prioritize those projects in the future.”

Work on levees in the Schuyler area and the construction of small dams in the Wahoo Creek watershed in Saunders County are both part of the STAR WARS plan, according to Tom Riley, director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources. Both of these initiatives are aimed at reducing the risk of flooding along the Platte River.

According to Riley, his department is currently getting ready to start an investigation into the potential effects that the large lake could have on the drinking water well fields that are maintained by the cities of Lincoln and Omaha along the Platte River. Following that, there will be a report on whether or not it is possible to really construct the large lake.

Even the suggestion of damming a creek or river in Nebraska has in the past elicited vociferous opposition from the people whose land or community would be affected by the project.

In response to previous objections, the STAR WARS committee came up with a plan to create a large recreational lake between Omaha and Lincoln that would not involve damming the Platte but would instead involve pumping sand into a sand-pit to make a lake that would be at least 3,600 acres in size and would compete with Iowa’s popular Lake Okoboji.

‘Best-value’ choice

According to the HDR research, a lake created by such a sand pit would not significantly contribute to the reduction of flooding along the Platte River. On the other hand, they made an estimate that dams on tributaries may.

The report identified a damming project on Logan Creek, which is a tributary of the Elkhorn River, as the “best-value option.” This project would be located approximately 65 miles northwest of Omaha, between the communities of Oakland and Lyons. HDR estimated that a “relatively shallow” reservoir located there, with an average depth of 5 feet, could reduce flows from a flood event that occurs once every 100 years by 12-14%, and that it could have reduced flooding on the lower Platte during the “bomb cyclone” floods that occurred in March of 2019 by 7%.

“Highest rated” alternatives are available.

The following are the reservoir alternatives that received the “highest rated” grade from HDR:

In the watershed of the Elkhorn River are the following locations: Union Creek near Madison; Logan Creek near Oakland-Lyons; and the Elkhorn River before Norfolk. Middle Loup River just downstream from the Arcadia Wildlife Management Area and Middle Loup River close to Dannebrog are both located in the Loup River watershed. The combined Wahoo and Silver Creeks as well as Rock Creek near Lincoln are located within the Salt Creek watershed.

According to the analysis, the reduction of flood flows in a flood that occurs once every 100 years may be lowered by as much as 25% in the lower Platte region if the Oakland-Lyons dam and another dam on the Elkhorn River near Norfolk or on the Union Creek near Madison were constructed.

Dams on Loup River tributaries near Arcadia and Dannebrog, or dams on the Wahoo-Silver Creeks and Rock Creek, would collectively reduce 100-year flood flows on the lower Platte by 14% and 16%, respectively. This is in contrast to the two options that received the next highest rating, which are dams on Wahoo-Silver Creeks and Rock Creek.

The possibility of constructing a dam close to Lyons has taken the mayor of this agricultural community of 766 people by surprise, and it has led a local business owner there to joke about the prospect.

“That’s insane!”

Allen “Steiny” Steinmeyer, who owns a general store in Lyons, expressed his opinion that “I believe it’s nuts.”

It is going to take a significant amount of farmland out of the game. “And where is all of the water to fill it?” he asked. “I don’t understand.” Tell them to go have a look at the Logan right this second. It would be a miracle if you could even fill a thimble.”

It is the first time that Lyons Mayor Andy Fuston has heard of anyone proposing to dam up the Logan Creek, which is known as “the dredge” in the Lyons area because it was straightened by a dredging project a century ago. Fuston stated that it is the first time he has heard of anyone proposing to dam up the Logan Creek.

To create the reservoir envisioned by HDR, a dam with dimensions of about 8,000 feet in length and 37.7 feet in height would be necessary. It would be planned in such a way as to prevent any interference with U.S. Highway 77 and a BNSF train line that run beside the expansive Logan valley between Oakland and Lyons.


Fuston had a hunch that residents of Lyons would have conflicting feelings about the proposed reservoir.

He went on to say that the concept brings up a number of problems, including: “Would it give recreation? Would it be of assistance in irrigating the nearby farmland?

A representative of the Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District stated that while the NRD is continually looking for ways to mitigate floods, he was unaware of any proposals to dam the Elkhorn River. However, the representative did say that some smaller dams on tributaries of the Logan Creek have been looked at. The STAR WARS report suggested that the Elkhorn River should be dammed.

Damming the main channel of the Elkhorn River, as projects manager for the NRD located in Norfolk Curt Becker explained, would be exceedingly costly and need a significant amount of land.

He did note that the Lower Elkhorn NRD is looking into one of the projects that was mentioned in the STAR WARS study. That project is a dam on Battle Creek, which is located west of Norfolk and near the village with the same name.

When asked if residents of the Lower Elkhorn NRD area, which includes the communities of Lyons, Oakland, West Point, and Norfolk, would support building dams in those areas to reduce flooding far downstream on the Platte, Becker said he wasn’t so sure. The Lower Elkhorn NRD area includes all of these communities.

He stated that “our responsibility is not to generate flood reduction for those in areas outside of our jurisdiction.” This region is the principal focus of our attention.

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