The Great Flood of 2011

The roar of the Missouri flowing through the 14 floodgates spanning the shared Nebraska and South Dakota border was a hungry lion waiting to pounce. Soon the nation’s longest river would attack Nebraska with one of the worst floods in its history.

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The Farmer’s Water Park - FORT CALHOUN

by Paul Wemminghoff

It’s just something you’ve never seen in your life. You try to get to the closest spot of your land and you’re standing at the edge of the water but it’s still a half mile to your farm. It’s just virtually like an inland sea. You can see pictures on TV, or be in a plane flying over it, but nothing compares to standing there. You just stand there and wonder: How in the hell can we have this much water here? I guess the river gave us our own water park last summer.

Our family’s been farming for generations and we’ve had these 300 acres on the river bottom near Fort Calhoun for about 48 years. I’m 54 years old and I’ve been trying to pull some earnings out of this soil since I was seven. It’s fertile land and about a mile off the Missouri River proper, but for four month it was filled with water 8 to 12 feet deep. Still, we were luckier than most. I have neighbors who have anywhere from 2 to 10 feet of silt over hundreds of acres. Our land wasn’t left with nearly as much silt, and we brought heavy machinery in and spread it over several acres.

When the water receded, along with the sand, silt, and mud, I found decks off houses, large propane tanks, anything that can float. But I also knew I would find zero bushels to harvest, and because I wasn’t able to plant all the corn and soybeans, the value of my crop insurance was cut nearly in half, and my real estate taxes increased even though I didn’t get any revenue. How would you like to go out and look at your farm completely under water and you can’t see one square foot of dirt and then have your valuation in the last two years go up a couple hundred thousand dollars? You just have to roll with the punches and realize a year of your life went by where you have virtually no income off that investment.

We had an abnormally mild winter and were able to rebuild our land well into January. Our fields are ready to plant, but it’s a mystery if the corn and soybeans will return. In our family’s history of owning land on the river bottom we’ve never experienced an extended period of water like this. So there are great concerns about the life of the soil.

America’s become a country of people pointing the finger and laying the blame instead of asking what can I do to make it better. I’m a person of faith, and you don’t have to look very far to see a neighbor, a friend, or a stranger who has something that’s more challenging and worse than your situation. You just got to stay upbeat and take it a day at a time, man.

And as far as the river goes, you always respect the old gal.


Slippery Slope of Levee Patrol - OMAHA

When she started with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 18 years ago, Teresa Reinig never imagined waging a battle against a raging Missouri River. But that battle was unleashed after the river was rushing 60,000 cuboc feet per second (cfs) greater then Niagara Falls, and was cresting 10 feet over flood stage in many places. Reinig started out as a geologist. But like last year’s water rising, Reinig
rose through the Army Corps ranks. She’s a project manager now, and at times, that puts her right in the path of both nature’s fury, and that of the public.

The Papillion resident grew up on a farm near Panama, Iowa, and has vivid memories of the Nishnabotna River filling her family’s basement with a dirty deluge during the flood of 1972. “I know how devastating that was for the local farmers,” Reinig said. “Those things stay with you. It left a lasting impression on me.” That personal experience gives her an important perspective when working between other government agencies, municipalities, and the public.

One evening she and two workers patrolled the north levee of the Omaha Flood Protection Project as darkness quickly approached. Reinig lost her footing and plunged down the rain-soaked levee and into the swollen Missouri. By the time her co-workers realized what had happened, Reinig, who was wearing her governmentissue life-vest, was now muddy and wet and had pulled herself from the river’s grasp. Injury and tragedy narrowly averted, the team continued to check the rest of the 9.3 mile-long earthen levy.


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