Arkansas River Ready For River Festival

By: Jason Tarr Email
By: Jason Tarr Email

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Arkansas River is ready for recreational use as the Wichita River Festival prepares to kick off its 2013 celebration Friday.

"The water is safe," city storm water engineer Scott Lindebak said.

Even so, city leaders are asking people attending the festival to make sure to wash off after getting out of the river and to avoid swallowing river water. They say people with open wounds should avoid contact with the river water.

The city has posted green flags at the Lewis Street and Douglas bridges to signify that recreational use of the river is safe but subject to those precautions.

The flags are part of an advisory level system established in the last decade by the city.

In addition to green flags, the city also has blue flags which signify the river is in excellent condition and fine for recreational use. Orange flags signify the river is not for public use.

The city elevated the advisory level to the green flags given the recent rains.

"We've had some excess runoff so there's a bit of concern that there are higher levels of possible pollutants in the river," Lindebak said.

In the week before River Fest and during River Fest, city staff sample the water every day at 8 a.m.

Lindebak said they do the test by lowering a bottle from the Lewis Street bridge into the water, allowing the bottle to fill up. They bring it back up, cap it, and put it in a cooler. The water is then taken to the sewer treatment facility laboratory where it's tested. They test for E. coli bacteria levels. They look at five days of data at a time to determine trends.

Depending on the results, they post those blue, green, or orange flags. The flags fly throughout the festival.

"We of course partner with the public safety professionals and abide by whatever guidance we receive from them," said Mary Beth Jarvis, who leads the Wichita River Festival.

In terms of preparations on land, she says festival staff and volunteers are on track despite the rain drops.

"It may take a little work this evening and again in the morning once the rain clears, but we'll be ready for everyone to have a good time!" Jarvis said.

City staff say no matter the advisory flag flying above the river, you can have a good time if you follow a little common sense.

"Even if the river was in pristine condition, a prudent person would try to wash your hands and avoid swallowing the river water," Lindebak said.

In addition to updating the flags daily on the Lewis and Douglas Street bridges, the city will post river advisory information on its website at Click on Departments, Public Works and Utilities, and the Arkansas River under the Environment tab.

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