Lincoln Water System Flooding Response – March 2019

Historic flooding occurred in mid-March 2019 across much of eastern Nebraska, resulting from heavy rain, snowmelt and ice jam break-ups. The Platte River was among 14 waterways to experience the greatest impact. Flood conditions resulted in power outages in and around Lincoln’s wellfields and led to a temporary loss of water production capacity. This triggered water use restrictions to be enacted for Lincoln Water System (LWS) customers to preserve the water supply.

Lincoln’s water quality was unaffected by flood impacts, and remained safe to drink and use throughout restoration operations. The City’s water is sourced from groundwater 80 feet below the surface and is not at risk of contamination. The treatment plants remained secure and functioned as designed. The entire water system is under constant monitoring.

Timeline of Events

Friday, March 15

Mayor Chris Beutler signed an emergency order enabling Lincoln Transportation and Utilities to escalate staffing and resources to further safeguard the City's wellfields near Ashland.

Saturday, March 16

The National Guard dropped sandbags to stabilize the banks of the Platte River as a means of protecting the wellfields from further water rise.

Sandbagging The National Guard dropped sandbags to stabilize the banks of the Platte River

Sunday, March 17

Sunday morning, a levee breach near Thomas Lakes created additional floodwater near and around our wellfields, which led to power outages that reduced production capacity. Voluntary water restrictions were issued later that day as a precautionary measure to preserve the water supply.

In the evening hours, flooding conditions resulted in a temporary loss of pressure from a producing wellfield to the water treatment plant. Work crews isolated the issue to partially restore water production. However, the tenuous status of the water supply triggered an elevation of water use restrictions. A Level 2 Water Use Restriction Emergency was declared, which called for a mandatory reduction in water use by commercial and residential LWS customers.

Monday, March 18

Lincoln officials contacted the Governor's Office and asked him to issue a disaster declaration for the City of Lincoln. The declaration was necessary to request the state and federal funding needed to help restore water production. Mandatory water restrictions remained in effect. Residents and businesses had already responded to the call for conservation, saving a daily average of 1 million gallons by Monday.

Tuesday, March 19

Work continued to restore access to the damaged wells and rebuild power poles and lines to restore electricity. The mandatory water restrictions remained in place and were shown to be effective, with a daily average of 3 million gallons saved by Tuesday.

Road Repairs Crews rebuild a road to gain access to wellfields

Wednesday, March 20

Power was restored to the north wellfields. Production and capacity were increased from 32 to 40 million gallons per day, which allowed water restrictions to be downgraded to a voluntary basis while repairs continued. By Wednesday, residents and businesses were saving a daily average of 3.6 million gallons of water.

Thursday, March 21

Crews continued rebuilding access roads and installing new power poles and lines to wells closest to the Platte River. Teams from Lincoln Water System and Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) used a helicopter to access and inspect equipment in the wellfields. Voluntary water restrictions remained in effect.

Airlift Teams from LWS and OPPD used a helicopter to access and inspect equipment

Friday, March 22

Lincoln Water System provided a preliminary cost estimate of $15 to $17 million in costs that are eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimbursement. The preventative flooding assistance from the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, the National Guard, and other emergency responders helped to minimize cost and safeguard Lincoln Water System infrastructure from further damage during the flood. The City will seek reimbursement of up to 75 percent of repair costs from FEMA, as a result of the disaster declaration for the State of Nebraska.

Emergency Operations Partners

Lincoln Fire and Rescue • Lincoln Police Department • Nebraska National Guard • Omaha Public Power District • Lincoln-Lancaster County Emergency Management • Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department • Governor Pete Ricketts • Nebraska Emergency Management Agency


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