Ark river rises, Big ditch keeps it stable


City of Wichita officials said water levels in the Arkansas River are rising Thursday, but the big ditch is keeping it stable.

According to city data, the rivers recent elevation is at just over 14 feet while cresting at over 15 feet while flowing at 19,000 cubic feet per second near 21st Street and Interstate 235. For reference, the normal flow in that area is zero cubic feet per second. Other high areas include the same river near Maize, which is flowing at 30,300 feet per second with an elevation stage at 17 and a half feet.

The Little Arkansas River is also flowing near Alta Mills at 7,700 cubic feet per second, Highway 50 at 9,180 cubic feet per second and Sedgwick at 14,700 feet per second with the latter two having elevation stages over 20 feet. All areas named also have a normal flow rates at, or below 300 cubic feet per second.

City officials said the river is moving at a high rate in most places, but they are able to keep it under control thanks to an invention from over five decades ago.

""The big ditch is really doing its job right now," said Don Henry, assistant director for Wichita Public Works and Utilities. "It's diverting water around the city like it's supposed to and everything's functioning well."

The project was built throughout the 1950's and finished in 1959, fixing flooding problems for the city of Wichita according to Henry.

"Quite frequently we would have flooding downtown, the riverside area, you know, it wasn't unusual to have waist deep water downtown," he said.

With water levels higher than normal, according to Henry, the big ditch is still able to keep it under control, with water only reaching the sidewalks and covering the bottoms of trees.

"That prevents a lot of the flooding that we have, and what flooding we do see is minimized," Henry said.

Some fisherman were out near the edge of the river casting lines regardless of the high water. One fisherman who has fished there since he was 12 years old said it was quite a site to see.

"Look at what nature can do that, that man can't even do anything about it," said Steven Langhofer, a Wichita resident.

However, he said he still felt safe enough to go fishing and bring his grandchildren with him the previous Saturday. He said he kept and eye on his grandchildren, but other than that it wasn't a concern.

With more rain in the forecast, Mayor Jeff Longwell said, they will alert residents if it does, but city officials are confident that it won't cause severe issues.

"We're continually monitoring it, our staff feels pretty good that the river's not going to come out of it's banks," Longwell said. "We will be the first to alert them, but we are constantly monitoring at this point."

Debris in the river, on the sidewalks, and in storm drains are something Longwell said would be monitored over the weekend as well.