Late last week, Wally Seibel, chairman of the float committee for the Arkansas River Coalition, sat at his computer and started typing up an announcement for a float trip on the river this Saturday.
It had been awhile since he was able to plan such a float.
“We haven’t been able to paddle due to the very low flows,” Seibel said. “But the gauges are showing enough water now that we think we can do it.”
The coalition had floated the Verdigris and the Elk rivers, but not the Arkansas since a New Year’s Day voyage below the Lincoln Street dam.
And that was a struggle.
“It turned out we were dragging our boats across the sand bars about as much as we were floating them,” Seibel said.
River levels in the drought-starved Arkansas are rising, helped by the record snows late last month and a heavy rain Saturday.
The city raised the Lincoln Street dam a foot and a half over the weekend and will slowly lift it a little more as the river gets more sustained flow rates, said Scott Lindebak, Wichita’s storm water division manager
“This weekend was a nice rain,” he said. “One more rain like over the weekend and I think we’ll be close to raising the dam up permanently.”
The flow rate in the river increased to 146 cubic feet per second after Saturday’s rain, which is about 50 cubic feet per second short of the rate where the city would raise the dam completely, he said. The day before the rain, the rate was 69 cubic feet per second. A month ago it was 45 cubic feet per second.
Regular flow is 200 cubic feet per second. Once the flow reaches its normal level and sustains it for a week, the city will raise the dam completely, Lindebak said.
Lindebak said raising the dam prematurely could endanger wildlife downstream.
He said he is optimistic there will be enough water in the river for the Wichita River Festival, scheduled to run May 31 to June 8.
Seibel said his coalition enjoyed the Verdigris and Elk River floats so much they may do them again. But the coalition, which is an environmental organization more than a paddle club, prefers to keep its focus on the Arkansas River, he said. It likes to get people onto the river, thinking that will make them better stewards of it.
“Any amount of moisture that might end up in the river is most welcome,” Seibel said.