River Festival

Will the Arkansas River open in time for Riverfest? Here’s what needs to happen

River Festival adjusts to high water along the Arkansas River

(May 31, 2019) Mary Beth Jarvis, head of the Wichita River Festivals, talks about what organizers of the annual event have done to account for high levels of water along the Arkansas River.
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(May 31, 2019) Mary Beth Jarvis, head of the Wichita River Festivals, talks about what organizers of the annual event have done to account for high levels of water along the Arkansas River.

The rain-swollen Arkansas River showed up for the party but got barred at the gate.

The City of Wichita closed off the river, which was flowing much too swiftly, on Thursday — just before Riverfest opened for 2019.

Now it’s anyone’s guess as to whether it will be reopened before the festival’s end next week.

There are three conditions that must be met before the river could be reopened, according to David McGuire, the city’s superintendent of park maintenance and forestry.

  • The river must be within its banks
  • There must not be excessive debris in the river
  • The flow rate of the river “would be good to be under 2,000 cubic feet per second.”

As of Friday, the waters of the river were still covering the sidewalks on its banks — and the river was flowing at around 11,400 cubic feet per second, according to McGuire.

“Right now it’s out of its banks and flowing pretty quick,” he said. “We need it to slow down.”

McGuire said the hope is that the river can at least get back within its banks by day’s end Friday, though he “can’t put an estimation” on how long it might take for the river to slow down.

The riverside bike/pedestrian sidewalks are heavily used during Riverfest by people traveling between the northern and southern parts of the festival grounds.

Ann Keefer, Riverfest’s vice president of program development, told the Eagle on Thursday that many water events, including the stock tank races and cardboard regatta, may be postponed to the festival’s second weekend in hopes that the river could be reopened by then.

The festival’s paddle boats, kayaks and canoes — this year scheduled to launch from the River Vista Apartments — are on hold, as are the Wagonmasters River Tours.

Until the river falls, people will have to walk through the Century II parking lot to travel between the north and south areas of Riverfest.

It’s possible yet more rain is on its way to town, too — the National Weather Service predicts a 40% chance of storms Saturday and Sunday, a 50% chance on Monday and a 30% chance on Tuesday.

The river flooding comes as storms over the month dropped more than double the normal rainfall for May, the National Weather Service said. At Wichita’s Eisenhower National Airport, 4.57 inches is normal for May. This month, 12.64 inches of rain have fallen at the airport.

That is half an inch away from tying the record for the wettest May. In May 2008, 13.14 inches of rain was recorded at the weather service office at the airport. The record for the city’s wettest month of all time was set at 14.43 inches in June 1923.

Contributing: Jason Tidd of The Eagle

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Matt Riedl covers arts and entertainment news for the Wichita Eagle and has done so since 2015. He maintains the Keeper of the Plans blog on Facebook, dedicated to keeping Wichitans abreast of all things fun.

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