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Recent Rain Means Riverfest May Have More River Than Usual

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KMUW
A group of people ride jet skis in the Arkansas River near downtown Wichita. With severe weather clearing up, event organizers say the IJSBA Mid-America Watercross Championships will still be held starting Saturday.

Last month, strong storms dropped more than 7 inches of rain over the Wichita area, and officials with Riverfest have been worried about the condition of the Arkansas River ahead of the event’s opening on Friday.

Strong currents have been recorded on the Arkansas River for weeks, which would have made the water too dangerous for popular festival attractions like pontoon boat rides, jet ski races and paddle boats. But persistent storms appear to have have slowed down just in time for the festival’s 45th year.

“We started out this week at nearly 11,000 cubic feet per second going over the Lincoln Street dam," says Mary Beth Jarvis, CEO of River Festivals Inc. "We’re now down to about 2,600. So the river has receded and slowed down considerably.”

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Credit Sean Sandefur / KMUW
A sign for Riverfest buttons is displayed in front of the Century II Performing Arts & Convention Center.

Jarvis says they’re still monitoring the flow of the Arkansas River to see if it will be safe enough for paddle boats, but machine-powered watercraft should be in the clear.

“We’re getting really close to those flow rates that will be acceptable for people-powered craft to be in the water,” Jarvis says. “We’re going to have to make a call.”

The city is also testing the river each day for E. coli. So far, the water is clean.

According to River Festivals Inc., last year’s event attracted a total of 410,000 attendees, and sponsorship revenues are up 35 percent over the last four years.

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Follow Sean Sandefur on Twitter @SeanSandefur

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