Omaha crews repairing damage after weekend flash-flood overwhelms some city sewers

Published: Aug. 9, 2021 at 12:27 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - City officials said Monday they are working hard to address sewer issues and clean up in the aftermath of flash-flooding Saturday night, particularly through downtown Omaha.

The rain that fell over the weekend came down hard and fast, flooding city streets, particularly in areas where the water runoff meets the city’s sewers — it was too much for the combined system to handle.

Floodwaters on Saturday night pushed cars around, flooded businesses, and gave one man in an elevator quite a scare.

City crews are working to determine how the water came in and whether there’s an issue with the public sewer system in that area, said Steve Andersen, manager of sewer maintenance at Omaha Public Works.

Omaha officials are also keeping an eye on the amount of damages caused by the flash-flooding to see whether the city qualifies for financial help from FEMA.

Officials said the work being done on the Riverfront had nothing to do with the city’s flood drainage.

“The old Gene Leahy Mall was not a part of our sewer system. It was never designed to provide overflow for stormwater like that,” City Engineer Todd Pfitzer said.

Officials said things could have been worse, and that Omaha is working on an unfunded federal mandate calling for the city to separate its sewer system. That work has provided some relief, they said.

The downtown area had the highest intensity of rainfall — close to four inches per hour, Andersen said, creating a large amount of water to flow into the gravity sewers sloping from 26th Street.

The combined sewers are usually most impacted because they’re old and generally covered with brick, Andersen said.

The city is working to separate the sewers, “and that’s certainly going to help,” Pfitzer said.

In the meantime, detention basins built around town have also helped, Andersen said.

Pfitzer said what happened Saturday is a 100- to 200-year event.

The city could build a system that never floods, he said, “but it would cost billions of dollars,” Pfitzer said.

In the meantime, there’s a lot of clean-up that has to be done. Roads once covered with dirt and dust — and some sections of city streets — just floated away. A big chunk is missing from Leavenworth Street and Saddle Creek Road. It’s now sitting a few blocks away on the sidewalk.

Steve Andersen, Omaha Public Works manager, said his department has been checking the city’s sewer system from top to bottom.

Pfitzer said city crews were still out making repairs and cleaning up “a lot of dust” that’s happening in the process. He said they expected that level of clean-up to be done by Tuesday.

Most areas were already clear, Pfitzer said, with the exception of 20th Street and Woolworth Avenue.

Clean-up will also continue in areas hardest hit by Saturday night’s flash-flood.

“The Old Market garage had feet of water in it; it’s now got inches of mud, so we’re scraping through there,” he said. The garage — and the cars in it — sustained a lot of damage.

The Omaha Park Six garage was also damaged, particularly gates and other electrical equipment, he said.

Pfitzer said a wall came down in front of a business near 20th and Poppleton streets, and the city has front-end loaders and dump trucks out in spots like this, creating a lot of dust during the clean-up process. The city also plans to sweep streets near the downtown post office, particularly close to the bridge.

The storm also caused street buckling and cracks, indicating “there’s damage underground that we can’t see,” Pfitzer said.

So Omaha Public Works deployed crews Saturday night and Sunday, doing inspections and clean-up, answering calls, and assessing areas of concern, like blown manhole covers and street damage.

Contractors are assisting with the effort, Andersen said. Crews were working on one sewer site where sewer structures were damaged, and crews were investigating two others.

He some sewers collapsed because “they were over-pressurized during the rain event,” and in some areas, grates were blown off.

“We’re still getting calls from property owners about water they’ve had come into their houses... so we’re responding to those as well,” he said.

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