Omaha Forced To Dump Sewage Into Missouri River

Thousands of people are heading to Omaha, Nebraska, as the College World Series kicks off in a new downtown stadium. But rising waters from the nearby Missouri River, along with seeping sewage, is creeping up to the baseball stands.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here's a side effect of the Midwestern floods. In Omaha, Nebraska, the rising waters of the Missouri River make it hard to contain sewage. And that could make things unpleasant for thousands of people who are heading to Omaha for the College World Series. The waters from the Missouri River are now creeping toward the brand-new stadium where the series opens tomorrow. Robyn Wisch reports.

(Soundbite of power saw)

Mr. LADD LYONS: Set these up and get them in the right place.

ROBYN WISCH: Ladd Lyons is building a makeshift bar at the Tailgate Tent outside Omaha's brand-new baseball stadium. The College World Series ended its run last year at Rosenblatt Stadium, its old home for 50 years. It's now held at a new ballpark, surrounded by hotels and restaurants.

Mr. STEVE LINDSEY: We're expecting record crowds.

WISCH: Steve Lindsey has a food stand under a large tent just outside the front gates.

Mr. LINDSEY: I'm excited. And when you look around, everything's bright, shiny and new, and I think people are - it's going to be a great first experience in the new stadium forum. I'm happy.

WISCH: But the fresh start to the College World Series is not so fresh just a couple of blocks north. Dirty, fetid water is bubbling under the surface.

Mr. LES BRUNING: Sunday afternoon around 4 o'clock was when we first noticed the gushing water, and at some points it was going clear across the street.

WISCH: While other communities along the rising Missouri are dealing with breached levees, Omaha is more concerned with raw sewage. The city is currently dumping its untreated sewage into the river. In front of his Omaha art studio, Les Bruning(ph) is seeing the effects of the city's overworked combined sewer system.

Mr. BRUNING: They came out and sandbagged around so that the sewer water coming out of the sewer flowed over and went down the storm sewer. Well, it affects our business because, you know, people think they don't want to get caught in a flood and they don't want to smell the sewer. So...

Mr. DAN STOLINSKI (Assistant fire chief, Omaha): Good morning. This is the situation status report for the Missouri River Command...

WISCH: City officials have been giving daily updates on water levels and preparations. Here's Assistant Fire Chief Dan Stolinski.

Mr. STOLINSKI: The Missouri River is currently at 33.11 feet. Flood stage is 29 feet. The estimates show by Sunday evening, the 19th, the river will be at 33.3 feet.

(Soundbite of water running)

WISCH: I'm standing about as close to the Missouri River as you can get these days. The water is so high and the current is just moving incredibly quickly. But Omaha is protected by a 42 foot levee that was built the last time the water got this high.

Mayor JIM SUTTLE (Omaha): We owe a great deal of gratitude to Mayor Johnny Rosenblatt and the city leaders in 1955, who built this levee on the Omaha side.

WISCH: That's Omaha Mayor, Jim Suttle.

Mayor SUTTLE: They built it very, very soundly. Now since then, we've been maintaining it, and that's why our levee's working for us.

WISCH: Back at the Tailgate Tent, even if there's the occasional waft of sewage outside the stadium, marketing manager Stacy Leners says the games will go on.

Ms. STACY LENERS (Marketing manager): We'll keep plugging away and enjoy the games, and deal with the smell. There's not much we can do about that.

WISCH: The fight against the rising Missouri will continue long after the games are over. The high water is expected to put pressure on the levees here throughout most of the summer.

For NPR News, I'm Robyn Wisch in Omaha.

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