(The Center Square) – With local utilities in Nebraska still dealing with damage from the 2019 floods, increased federal and state funding is on the way to help.
President Joe Biden recently increased the share of federal disaster assistance to public utilities such as power, irrigation and natural resource districts from 75% to 90%, Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Assistant Director Bryan Tuma told The Center Square.
“That decision by the president probably is going to equate to an additional $65 million in federal assistance to Nebraska that otherwise would have been the responsibility of the applicants,” Tuma said. “It dramatically reduces the disaster recovery costs for our eligible applicants.”
In addition, Gov. Pete Ricketts has approved state funds to pay a share of the recovery costs.
“Nebraska has always provided a 12.5% cost share,” Tuma said. “But the public utilities typically were not covered by that. But with the president deciding to increase the federal share to 90%, that dramatically lowered the cost share for both the state and the units of local government.”
The floods caused an estimated $3.5 billion in damage, with $500 million of that to public infrastructure, Tuma said.
That included damage to water treatment plants.
“In some cases, they are going to relocate those facilities because they are in flood-prone areas,” Tuma said. “Engineering, environmental – all those types of issues have to be resolved before you go forward with those projects. Those are in various stages of completion. We will be working those projects for a long time.”
The flooding was caused by several factors, Tuma said.
“We had a very severe winter, with very low temperatures,” he said. “We had a lot of snow pack. Our rivers and lakes were all frozen.”
Then a major blizzard called a “bomb cyclone” hit the western part of the state in March 2019.
“There was up to 24 inches of wet, heavy snow, with high winds,” Tuma said. “As that system made its way to the east, it translated into a major precipitation event in the form of rain.”
Temperatures rose and snow melted, producing more runoff on frozen ground and frozen rivers.
“It overwhelmed the capacity of the system to absorb that precipitation,” he said. “The system could not deal with that much runoff.”