Halstead, Kansas — The water is high. It’s getting higher. Do not drive around barricades.
Reno County Sheriff Randy Henderson says law officers are ready to start handing out tickets to anyone who goes around barricades.
“With this flooding situation,” explains Henderson, “it could be flooded this hour, not the next hour. Again in another hour. So they just need to be very careful. But number one: Do not drive around barricades.”
In Halstead, in Harvey County, they are also ready to start handing out criminal trespass charges for any who go around barricades.
Halstead is starting to flood on the North end of town from the river. But Halstead has remained largely dry, so far, because of a levee system constructed in the early 90′s. The town closed the first of three massive flood gates close to the river on Wednesday afternoon.
“We are confident the levee will hold and Halstead will be safe,” says Halstead City Administrator J. R. Hatfield. “We’ve just got water everywhere. But the levee is in place. Confidence is high.”
And so is the water. The river at Halstead has gone from just a few inches earlier this year to about twenty feet. And it will not crest until Thursday morning.
Halstead is not alone in flood control. The Wichita-Valley Center flood control system, known as the big ditch, takes water and diverts it away from the cities of Wichita and Valley Center.
“Oh, those two areas including downtown Wichita would flood without the big ditch, ” says Scott Lindebak with the City of Wichita. “The big ditch is doing exactly what it is supposed to be doing.”
Lindebak says crews have been plucking large debris out of the big ditch to keep the waters flowing. Massive piles of debris are being set on the banks of the big ditch and will be burned later in the year.
All the water from the big ditch is flowing downstream. The Arkansas River at Mulvane is getting very high and officials are watching closely. Farther down the road in Oxford the river is also close to causing problems.
But in Halstead and Hutchinson they remain concerned, right now.
“We’ve got too much water,” says Hatfield. “Want some? We’d like to get rid of it.”