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'Big Ditch' renamed in honor of man credited for saving Wichita

Published: Jul. 3, 2019 at 4:06 PM CDT
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Following an act of Congress, the 60-year-old flood-control project credited for literally saving the city of Wichita is renamed for the man credited for its creation.

Rep. Ron Estes and Sen. Jerry Moran visited Wichita Wednesday to take part in the ceremony recognizing the official renaming of the Wichita-Valley Center Floodway -- known locally as "The Big Ditch -- to the MS Mitch Mitchell Floodway.

The project, completed in 1959, diverts water from Chisholm Creek, the Little Arkansas River, and the Arkansas River around the heart of Wichita and empties the water back into the river downstream of the city.

Estes discussed a few of the floods that nearly devastated Wichita before Mitchell pushed for the long-term solution.

In 1923, the congressman said, 600 city blocks were underwater from flooding. A flood in 1944 left about 5,000 people in Wichita temporarily homeless.

"Over and over again, that type of issue impacted our community," Estes said. "...(Mitchell) was able to recognize that this was a project that was not only worth doing, but was needed to do."

Many in Wichita and Sedgwick County didn't agree with Mitchell, strongly opposing the $20 million project.

"The value was not then known by many people. The plan was not widely supported by citizens," Moran said.

He said the project became a reality because of a group of local leaders coming together "to accomplish something of great value."

Today, along with the project he piloted, Mitchell is credited by many for literally saving the City of Wichita.

Estes says the city has saved money in the long run, taking into account how many potentially devastating floods could have impacted Wichita if not for The Big Ditch. The most recent example is the near-record rainfall that fell this May.

At Wednesday's name-changing ceremony in Wichita, Estes presented Mitchell's wife, Pat Mitchell with a signed copy of the bill that ran through Congress to make it happen.

"It's a monumental thing to change what was the Wichita-Valley Center Flood Control Project to the MS Mitchell Floodway," Estes says.