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Little Otter Creek Lake: A grassroots project 30 years in the making

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Angie Przybylo, Marketing

When you think of severe drought, you are likely to picture a vast Middle Eastern desert or an area like Death Valley in the United States. However, northwest Missouri has experienced serious drought waves for more than a century. And in 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) designated 97 counties in Missouri as primary natural disaster areas because of damage and losses caused by drought and excessive heat. The United States is aware of the impacts this has on agriculture and industry. 

In Missouri, climate change is expected to cause increased risk of heat stress, flooding, drought, a highly variable water cycle, and other impacts now and in years to come. The citizens in Caldwell County, Missouri, formed a coalition nearly 30 years ago to develop a solution for their communities—one that would provide a sustainable water supply to meet the needs for mitigating future impacts from drought.

Caldwell County is a rural community located approximately 30 miles northeast of the Kansas City metropolitan area. But as Caldwell County continues to grow, it is expected to change from a rural profile to a more suburban profile as the Kansas City metropolitan area continues to spread. In Caldwell County, 100 percent of the county is susceptible to severe drought and undependable water sources. Therefore, the citizens voted in August 2002 to approve a county-wide sales tax to begin planning their desired reservoir.

The purpose of this project, which is sponsored by Caldwell County, Missouri, is to construct a multipurpose reservoir to support water supply, water-based recreation, and flood damage reduction. The proposed lake will be located 3.5 miles southeast of Hamilton, Missouri, and will have a surface area of 344 acres.

An Environmental Impact Statement was completed by National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in 2003, and the document identified the county as susceptible to the following:

  • Inadequate and undependable rural water supply system for the residents of Caldwell County
  • Annual flood damages to crops, pastures, fences, roads, and bridges
  • Decreased farm income and increased maintenance caused by flooding
  • Limited public water-based recreational facilities in the project area

 The proposed reservoir will provide the following for the county:

  • Adequate, dependable, water supply system
  • Recreational opportunities
  • Reduced flood damage in the downstream areas of the Little Otter Creek floodplain

Olsson Associates is currently assisting the Caldwell County Commission with obtaining the necessary permitting, designing mitigation and recreation, and performing environmental studies for Little Otter Creek Project.

The project includes unavoidable changes in the watershed to meet the needs of the residents that will be addressed with this project. Olsson Associates is working on behalf of the Caldwell County Commission to prepare and obtain the necessary permitting to move the project forward.  This effort includes the following:

  • Preparation of Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, with NRCS as the lead federal agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a cooperating agency.
  • Preparation of a biological assessment for consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Sampling for listed bats and Topeka shiner indicate that these species are not present in the project area.
  • Preparation of a mitigation plan and detailed design to mitigate unavoidable impacts to the environment.
  • Development of a water management plan as a result of the Ecological Flows Task Force, a multi-jurisdictional task force including state and federal agencies developing solutions to minimize the impact of a reservoir on downstream ecology and stream function.  The water management plan is an innovative tool to increase frequent flows downstream of a reservoir. The plan will include modifications to the principal spillway to allow daily releases as well as releases mimicking the timing and magnitude of runoff from small storms.

The seeds for this project were planted more than 25 years ago. With local support, including one-half percent sales tax, all permitting is anticipated to be complete this year with construction potentially beginning this fall. The reservoir, with a construction cost of approximately $11 million, will provide 1.24 million gallons of raw water per day for Caldwell County to help meet the 50-year usage demand and reduce agricultural and infrastructure damages caused by flooding along the downstream banks of Little Otter Creek.


To learn more about this project, click here or contact Chad Johnson, technical leader for Olsson’s Water Resources team, at 913.748.2583 or cjohnson@olssonassociates.com.

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