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Permanent plug being installed to stop sewage flow into Arkansas River

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, May 31, 2012, at 6:20 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, at 11:55 a.m.

Workers today are expected to complete construction of a concrete, permanent plug for a leaky valve near the sewage treatment plant to stop the flow of contaminated water into the Arkansas River.

State health officials said Thursday their public health advisory remains in effect, but they reduced the river’s area for the warning so it will now start at the 47th Street Bridge and continue to the Kansas-Oklahoma border. It previously started at the Lincoln Street Bridge near downtown.

Water samples collected by city and state officials indicate the bacteria concentration level above the 47th Street Bridge is considered safe for recreation, said Miranda Steele, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

But people shouldn’t have any contact with the river in the area covered by the advisory, KDHE said. Pets and livestock also shouldn’t have contact with the water.

The changes come just as the Wichita River Festival opens its nine-day run today. The affected portion of the river is south and downstream of the Riverfest activities.

The city spent Thursday finalizing plans for the permanent plug and getting them approved by KDHE, said Joe Pajor, the city’s assistant director of public works and utilities. A contractor will do the work today.

Repair work includes construction of a concrete plug put in the chamber that leads to the leaking valve. A temporary plug had allowed some contaminated water to continue to leak into the river.

The temporary plug was put in place Monday – three days after KDHE discovered during a routine quarterly check that the river’s water quality near the East 83rd Street Bridge on the west side of Derby had too much bacteria. The cause was traced to a leaky valve near 71st Street South.

The contaminated water originated at the city’s main sewage treatment plant at 57th Street South, just east of Hydraulic and on the riverbank. Officials are still trying to determine how long the valve has been leaking from the pipe, which is 6 feet in diameter. That will help them figure out how much contaminated water was dumped into the Arkansas River, Pajor said.

During the Riverfest, river caution flags will be posted to alert people of conditions. Blue flags indicate no restrictions; green flags allow for boating but warn that no water should be ingested; and orange flags restrict any contact with the river.

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or at rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com.

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