In a special meeting of the Gering City Council, city staff told the council about preparations for potential flooding due to the rising North Platte River.
The Army Corps of Engineers warned communities along the river that levels could rise two to three feet from current overflowing levels in the coming weeks. A much higher than expected snowpack in Wyoming, estimated as much as 337 percent above average, has left reservoirs along the river at or near capacity.
In response, Gering Mayor Ed Mayo declared a state of emergency on June 6 due to eminent flooding and water seepage. In part, the declaration read “We expect severe damages to public and private property, possible evacuations and endangerment of health and safety of the citizens of the City of Gering.”
Fire Chief Jay Templar told council members they were currently building a restraining wall around the wastewater lift station immediately east of Midtown Animal Hospital. “We need to keep water out of the lift station,” he said. “Otherwise, we could lose sanitary sewer to a lot of businesses in that area.”
Templar said they’re also working on a transportation plan. The Union Pacific Railroad will close both its 10th and 7th Street crossings for the week on June 20 – 27. If some of the streets in the floodplain area become covered with water, alternative traffic routes would need to be planned.
The city is also investigating potential grant funding to provide for emergency, long-term shelter for residents if any are forced to leave their homes because of rising water levels.
Pat Heath, Gering’s director of public works, said the public should start to see the increased water flow this week, and that portions of the Midtown area will flood from water seeping up through the ground. He added that if the area of Crescent Drive north to Twin City Drive could possibly flood, which would necessitate the closing of portions of 10th St.
Heath said Gering is also monitoring its potable water well fields on a daily basis to make sure no contaminants are getting into the system. Some of the wells, previously taken offline when the city developed a new well field, could be restarted in case of an emergency.
“When you have a flood, it’s not that the river is going to be flowing through the Midtown area,” Heath said. “The areas will just fill up from groundwater. The main flow will still be in the river channel.”
Heath said city officials have already talked with all the business owners and agencies with buildings in the area to make them aware of potential flooding.
“Another concern we all have is rain,” Heath told council members. “We get thunderstorms at this time of year and if a few inches of rain fall in a few hours, it could just add to the problems we already have.”
Heath said that if any of the wastewater pump stations flood, the city would have to pump its wastewater directly into the river, at least on a temporary basis. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality has been informed of the potential and will be notified if that hazard materializes.
“I think we’re pretty well prepared,” Heath said. ‘Everyone’s pitched in to help out because we got started early. Now we just have to wait and see what happens.”