May 22-- May 22--Roads continued to be closed around Reno County on Tuesday because of field runoff, while area creeks and rivers continued to rise.
Even without more rain, officials are now projecting local streams won't likely crest until Friday as heavy rains across the region over the past two days continue to flow south.
No records are expected to be broken from the rising creeks in the area, though some may come close.
The Reno County Commission signed a new disaster declaration on Tuesday morning, making the county and any municipalities within it eligible for up to 85 percent reimbursement for flood damage and flood response costs.
Reno County Emergency Management director Adam Weishaar said it would be a continuation of an earlier declaration, even though the previous one was allowed to expire last week, meaning any costs in the interim should also be covered.
Cow Creek north of Hutchinson, the Arkansas River at Haven, the Little Ark near Sedgwick and the Whitewater River near Towanda were all forecast to reach "major flood" stage this week, according to the National Weather Service's Hydrological Prediction Service website.
That site showed some 131 river or creek gauge locations in the eastern half of Kansas, the northern half of Oklahoma and western Missouri -- out of some 360 gauges in the three states -- were currently in flood.
In Reno County, 35 county and township roads were closed because of flooding from field runoff Tuesday morning, with another 20 marked with "high water" warnings.
By 4:30 p.m., the list had grown to 45 closed and 24 with high water signs.
Officials also again closed US-50 highway between Hutchinson and Newton for the second time this month. The highway was first closed at Meridian in Harvey County, and then about 3:20 p.m., it was closed at Yoder Road in Reno County. It was unclear how long the highway might remain closed.
Also, officials closed K-14 highway in Rice County north of Sterling, and it was expected to remain closed until at least Friday.
Weishaar said his office has posted a road closing list on its Facebook site and is attempting to keep it updated through a Google.doc document. He also planned to post it on the county's website.
Cow Creek north of Hutchinson was at 11.93 feet at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, which was in the moderate flood category. It was projected to reach 12.5 feet, which is major flood, by 1 a.m. Thursday and crest at 12.7 by 7 p.m. Thursday.
That would make it the third highest historic crest on the creek, knocking off the flood of August 2013.
The flooding was not expected to force the closure of the bridge into Willowbrook, however, Weishaar said.
"The last time it closed was in 2012," he said. "In October it reached the bottom of the bridge at 12.8 feet, but it did not go over. We have no intention of closing the Willowbrook bridge unless water goes over it. There's a concern by residents we'll close it if the water is high, but that's not the case. We don't want to make it into an island. We want to make sure there's access."
If it appeared the creek was going to force the closure of the bridge, he said, they'll attempt to residents some warning, so they can get out or stock up on supplies and "be prepared to spend two or three days there."
"We'll have to wait and see," he said. "It's a lot different flooding this time. Based on the October numbers, I don't see it getting that high. I don't think we'll have an issue this time."
In the agency's latest forecast, Cow Creek wasn't expected to drop back below 12.5 feet until lunchtime Sunday, which is far out as the current model goes. So, though Willowbrook residents won't be marooned for days, others already surrounded by water will be.
The record flow on the creek, at 12.87 feet, was set last October. The only other time it reached 12.8 feet was in May 2007, according to the website.
The creek, which has a flood level of 9.5 feet at the gauge at 82nd Avenue, north of Hutchinson, is prone to flooding, have reached flood at least three times a year during eight of the past 12 years.
Weishaar complained during Tuesday's Reno County Commission meeting that while "a lot of variables come into play" on the creek flooding, he believed an ongoing release of water upstream from the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area was contributing to current flooding and the previous flood event.
"The last several events, when it gets full they release water, and it makes its way down Cow Creek into Rice County, and we see it," Weishaar said. "We contacted the state and Rice County Emergency Management and said it was causing major issues and needed to stop ... It did not stop. I don't know how to fix the issue."
The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism manages the wildlife area.
KDWPT spokesman Ron Kaufman said the bottoms last week had been releasing water at a rate of 200 cubic feet per second (cfs), but cut it down to 50 to 100 cfs at the request of Rice County officials.
The nearly 20,000-acre refuge is part of a more than 41,000 acres wetland fed by three separate watersheds.
"We have quite an investment in roads and dikes to control the water level," Kaufman said. "We have to release the water to protect our dikes and roads. The largest pool is designated to hold 18 inches of water or so. It's now about double that. There's still a little room to go, but we don't want to wash our dikes away."
"Cheyenne Bottoms is not a federal reservoir," Kaufman said. "It's not designed for flood control storage. There's a limit on our capacity to hold water, and our pools are full. We have to let at least some water pass through."
Both Kaufman and Jason Wagner, wildlife area manager, said the agency has been coordinating with Rice County Emergency Management on its releases.
The refuge, which has been releasing water since October, but went to the higher flow "a week prior to this last event," Wagner said, has never gone to its maximum release flow of 300 cfs.
"When we see the flow decrease at the Lyons gauges, they tell me when I can do the flow," Wagner said of Rice County officials.
"We reduced it significantly," he said of the release level.
He said he'd be willing to consider reducing the flow or shutting it off at the request of Reno County officials as well.
He wasn't working there at the time, but Wagner said he understood the last time flooding overtopped the dikes at the wildlife areas, in 2007, there was significant damage, with one dike costing some $750,000 to repair.
"We're not trying to cause anybody any grief," Wagner said. "We're just trying to protect our infrastructure."
Big and Little Arks
Another gauge they keep an eye on is on the Little Arkansas River at Alta Mills, which affects the Buhler area, Weishaar said.
If the water at that gauge tops 25.4 feet, "Buhler could become a little island again," with floodwater closing several roads in and out of the community of 1,300.
The river there at noon Tuesday was just over 24 feet, but it was projected to reach 26.1 feet by 1 p.m. Wednesday and not drop back below 25 feet until Thursday morning. Major flood stage there is listed as 27 feet, while moderate flood is 25 feet.
If it reaches 26 feet that would be the fifth highest mark for the river there on record. The record if 27.42 feet set in October 1973.
The Little Ark at Halstead, meanwhile, was at 26.53 feet at 3 p.m., which is considered minor flooding. It was projected to reach 27.2 feet by 1 p.m. Wednesday. The record flow on the river there was 27.22 feet, set on May 25, 2007.
The river at Halstead was not expected to drop below 27 feet until early Friday morning.
The Arkansas River in Hutchinson surpassed its 8-foot flood mark about 2 p.m. Tuesday. It was projected to crest at 9.8 feet, with a flow of 13,700 cfs, by 7 p.m. Saturday. The river there is considered in minor flood until it reaches 13 feet, which is not expected.
Downstream at Haven, however, the river was expected to go into major flood category.
"When it gets up over 12.7, it overtops a dike, and they sandbag it," Weishaar said. "They did some sandbagging a week ago. They're aware it's coming."
At 4:30 p.m., the river was at 11.4 feet, on its way to a projected crest of 12.3 by 7 p.m.
The river at Haven was expected to start to fall, but then come up again beginning Thursday, reaching 12.6 feet by 7 a.m. Sunday.
That would be the fourth highest level on record, though below the 12.96 reached in October. The record level at Haven is 13.08 feet, hit on May 8, 2007.
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