Floodwater release from Cheney Lake creates concerns downstream

SEDGWICK COUNTY, Kan. Update Wednesday, May 22, 2019

While opening the floodgates and releasing water into the Ninnescah River may alleviate some of the flood concerns around Cheney Lake, it creates concerns downstream.

Wednesday morning, water from the reservoir began rushing into the Ninnescah River at record rates. the river has several towns along its route downstream, including Clearwater.

Wednesday afternoon, Sedgwick County reports "early indications are that the release from Cheney Lake is is having a minimal effect downstream."

"Through first-hand observations, the North Fork is running higher than normal and low-lying areas immediately surrounding the river are flooded," the county says.

As of about 4:45 p.m. Wednesday, the county says the release hadn't required any special action and "there is no need to close the main roads at this time." It says output is expected to stay at about 4,000 cubic feet per second "for the immediate future."

"This likely will cause more river-adjacent flooding and perhaps a few more rural road closures, but in the short term, Sedgwick County Emergency Management is not expecting any new significant impact on the North Fork," the county says.

It says effects downstream in the lower portion of the river are less noticeable.

"While output has been increasing in the North Fork, the flow has been decreasing in the South Fork at almost the same rate, and the deeper and wider channel in this part of the river has minimized," the county says.

Still, people downstream are concerned with the excess water in the Ninnescah River and more chances for rain coming in the days ahead through Memorial Day.

In one Clearwater neighborhood, neighbors set out their own ruler to judge how far the water is rising, which ultimately determines if they need to evacuate. There isn't much more to go.

"I'm the eternal optimist, so i"m hoping that we will be OK," says Joyce Kliminski who lives next to a water-covered field in Clearwater. "It's already receded, so we are hoping that gives us a couple inches to play with."

But Kliminski knows the worst of the flooding could be coming soon with with water rushing through the Cheney Reservoir floodgates, sending thousands of gallons of water downstream.

Kliminski and others on her street took the day off Wednesday to make sure they're ready to evacuate if they have to. She says all she and her family can do is wait.

"Yo have to risk the few to save the greater," she says.

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The level of Cheney Lake continues to rise, leading to a potentially dramatic move Wednesday morning.

Sedgwick County Tuesday afternoon issued a news release saying it will be necessary to open the floodgates early Wednesday morning to lower the reservoir.

"Even with this release, the forecast is for Cheney Lake to reach a record height of 1,430.5 feet. At 6 a.m. Wednesday morning, May 22, the gates will open gradually until completely open by early Wednesday afternoon," the county says.

Sedgwick County says release water will flow first along the 15 miles of the North Fork of the Ninnescah River from below the dam "to confluence with the South Fork."

"This portion will overflow by 8 a.m. Wednesday," the county says. "The extent of the flooding in the north branch from this release is presently undetermined. This channel's normal water capacity is 1,500 cubic feet per second and it will have about 4,200 cubic feet per second flowing through when the gates are opened."

The county says the impact on areas farther downstream near Clearwater, Peck, and into Sumner County will be better known "once the River Forecast Center issues an updated outlook for the lower portion of the river."

"In general, people who live along the river, especially in areas prone to flooding, should take appropriate precautions now, and be prepared to evacuate to higher ground if necessary," Sedgwick County says. "This certainly will cause additional or prolonged road flooding along the river."