Young farmer looks off in the distance as he stands in floodwaters.
A young farmer stands in the high floodwaters (Photo courtesy of Audrey Hertel).

After historic flooding in March 2019 devastated many areas in Nebraska, state lawmakers introduced a bill that would take a much closer look at how the state prepares for and responds to major flooding events.

Introduced by Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard on Jan. 23, LB 1201 would create a Flood Mitigation and Planning Task Force that would coordinate different response sources, identify recovery programs, evaluate floodwater management and assess risk mitigation strategies to reduce future flooding impacts. 

“What it’s going to do is look at what happened, what our response was to that, how we plan for it currently (and) are there any gaps in those areas we need to improve on or haven’t thought of because we haven’t had a flood like this before,” Bostelman said.

The task force would be housed within the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency and be made up of a number of stakeholders, from the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources to the Department of Transportation. Task force members would serve without compensation but could receive reimbursement for any actual expenses, the bill proposed.  

“[LB 1201] really is to make sure we are talking – that we are all on the same page and working together looking into the future,” Bostelman said.

The task force can also form subcommittees that could consist of representatives from political subdivisions, counties, cities, villages or any other areas the task force feels are needed to discuss certain issues, according to Bostelman. 

The idea for a task force is the result of a comprehensive legislative study conducted in the summer of 2019, Bostelman said. The committee studied entire river systems from the Niobrara to the Elkhorn to the Loup to the Platte, he said.

The Missouri River was a part of the study, Bostelman said, but the focus of the committee was to look “in-state” and the hazards, risks, mitigation and flood planning throughout the state, specifically the state tributaries, rivers and basins off of the Missouri.

Sen. Julie Slama of Peru said the task force would focus its attention on all waterways in Nebraska because even though they all end up flowing into the Missouri River at some point, they can all individually cause problems to the communities around them.

In areas like the Niobrara and Platte rivers, many communities were flooded for a few days with the water receding within a matter of weeks, according to Slama. Parts of Slama’s district in southeast Nebraska remained underwater until mid-December of last year, nine months after the initial flooding began. The contrast in the flooding aftermath may have led some people to develop certain perceptions about LB 1201, she said.

“In keeping awareness of that disaster up,” Slama said, “some people may have built up the perception that the flood victims along the Niobrara or the Platte River had been forgotten. That is absolutely not the case at all. It’s just…along the Missouri River, our disaster lasted for nine months instead of a few weeks.” 

Bostelman reiterated the committee’s determination to provide a comprehensive study of all drainages and river systems in Nebraska.

“The intent is to look at a state comprehensive plan,” he said. “So, that’s the entire state.”

With the hearing date for LB 1201 set for Feb. 5, Bostelman said the bill has already garnered support from his constituents, other agencies and natural resource districts.

“I feel very strongly that it’s a good bill,” he said. “I’ve talked with people in my district that are very supportive of it; I’ve heard that from a lot of people. I would be surprised if we had much opposition, if any at all.”

Senior journalism student with a history minor.