City closes Arkansas River, says 'Big Ditch' keeps downtown Wichita from flooding

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) Gov. Jeff Colyer issued a disaster declaration for parts of Kansas that were affected by the recent flooding. Wichita was one of those areas.

In downtown, near the Keep of the Plains, water from the Arkansas River covers the sidewalk and even some of the signs.

While it looks high, city officials said they aren't concerned because it's part of the Wichita-Valley Center Floodway.

Jim Hardesty works for the city in its stormwater division. He says a big gate under I-235 and 25th street stops excess water from coming down the river to flood downtown Wichita. That water goes into the Wichita- Valley Center Floodway, also known as the " Big Ditch".

The large floodway protects Wichita from flooding by the Arkansas and Little Arkansas River by diverting water around Wichita. Those rivers are causing areas outside of Wichita like Sedgwick and Halstead to flood.

There are gates where the two rivers converge to keep excess amounts of water coming into town. Right now, the water is about 7-feet higher than normal.

Jim Hardesty, with Wichita's stormwater division, said the city is equipped to handle a lot more water so this amount doesn't worry them.

"The millions and billions of dollars it has saved from flood damage its just amazing. It has allowed our city to become a community, without it we wouldn't be here," he said.

The city says due to recent heavy rains, there may be flooding or debris blockage along bike and pedestrian trails.

Crews are working around the clock to reduce flooding and clear pathways, but in the meantime, citizens are asked to be cautious.

The river is closed to recreational activities from Oct. 10 to Oct. 17.