Communities along the Ninnescah River in western Sedgwick County are watching closely for possible flooding due to water releases at Cheney Reservoir.
The federal Bureau of Reclamation opened Cheney’s flood gates Wednesday to relieve the lake’s rising water level. After several days of heavy rain, the reservoir was expected to reach a record crest of 1,430 feet after the water releases.
Cody Charvat with Sedgwick County Emergency Management says there is no historical data to predict what might happen downstream following the Cheney water releases.
“We’re going to see what happens and make adjustments on the fly as necessary," he says, "because that’s really all we can do at this point."
The lake flows into the Ninnescah River, which was already near capacity at Clearwater and Peck. The north fork runs about 15 miles from below the dam to the confluence with the south fork.
Charvat says the channel’s normal water capacity is 1,500 cubic feet per second, and it will have about 4,200 cubic feet per second flowing while the gates are open. Water is expected bank to bank, and there could be an overflow.
Sedgwick County and local first responders are monitoring roads and bridges as they prepare for possible flooding.
“We are going to be looking at additional road closures in and around Clearwater especially, but we are not really expecting any broad impact on the general public farther downstream,” Charvat says. “It’s that upstream piece that still remains the question, and we’ll just have to keep an eye on it as the situation develops.”
He says Ninnescah’s south fork heading toward Peck is wider and deeper, and can absorb more of the water flow.
River flooding could impact at least 12 bridges in Sedgwick County. There is no immediate threat to Cheney’s dam.
Charvat says this is the second time that Cheney Reservoir’s flood gates have been opened. With more rain in the forecast, the flooding risk remains.
“We just really don’t know yet how long it might last," he says. "The Bureau of Reclamation said that they are planning to have water releases through Monday at least."
Sedgwick County fire and emergency management personnel are working with responders from Cheney, Viola and Clearwater.
For the latest on the situation, Sedgwick County is posting emergency road closing information here.
The National Weather Service is tracking river and stream levels in Kansas here.