Raising the Arkansas River for the Wichita River Festival in combination with recent heavy rains could have caused damage at a $2.3 million fish and boat passage at the Lincoln Street bridge and dam.
City officials say they aren’t sure what caused parts of the fish ladder and boat pass to erode and cracks to form in concrete spans that run along the bottom of the structure, which allows fish to continue upstream and canoers and kayakers to continue downstream without getting out of their boats.
But the rains could have been a factor, they say.
“We won’t be able to say whether it sustained structural damage until we are able to investigate it more thoroughly after we lower the river following Riverfest,” said Ben Nelson, strategic services manager for Wichita public works and utilities.
Work on the dam is nearly complete, and the city expects bridge work to be done before the end of the year, said Gary Janzen, interim city engineer.
After recent rain, “as the river was coming back up, it took on a lot more water than expected,” Janzen said of the fish ladder and boat pass.
John Callison, who lives nearby on South Waco, said “after we got all that rain, it just washed it out. It looks like a row of crooked teeth down there now.”
Callison is worried about the problem causing construction delays.
“We’ve been trapped down in that neighborhood,” he said.
Gary Hershberger fishes in the area and said the fish ladder and boat pass “worked like it was supposed to for the first few days after they raised the level and the river came up. And then with the rains, I guess it was just too much water.”
He said he, too, noticed that part of the structure seems “out of whack.”
Nelson said the city doesn’t know how substantial the damage is or what led to the problem. The design of the fish ladder and boat pass is unique, and there aren’t many like it in the country, he said.
The city plans to lower the river after the festival, and “we really have to wait until we lower it again to get the full scale of what the issue is. We’re not certain if it’s a large problem or a small-level issue. We also need to identify what the problem is, what the source of it is.”
The fish ladder and boat pass were installed in the past few months.
The dam cost $6 million, and the bridge cost $5.4 million. Along with the fish ladder and boat pass, the total cost of the project is $13.7 million.