Arkansas River water quality important to River Festival

Arkansas River (KSN Photo)

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Each year about this time, the City of Wichita launches a 10-day party known as River Festival. With the focus of the community event being the Arkansas River, KSN wanted to know about the quality of the water in the river.

We asked the question: “What is flowing into the Arkansas as thousands from across the state will be flocking to Wichita – and the river – over the next week and a half?”

KSN hired an independent lab to run an E. coli bacteria test of a water sample taken Thursday morning from the river. The test will indicate how much feces is in the water. The results of those tests will take about 24 hours. KSN will release those results on Friday.

The City of Wichita is also tracking water quality conditions at the Ark River.

“As the name is called ‘Riverfest,’ the river is very important to our activities,” said Wichita Vice Mayor LaVonta Williams during Thursday’s Mayorwatch press briefing. “In anticipation of Riverfest and all of the activities happening on the water, we at the city have been monitoring our water conditions.”

With an abundance of rain the last couple of weeks, water levels in the river have risen. The primary concern regarding water at this year’s Riverfest is flow because of the increase in rain.

“Mother Nature gave us about a month worth of storms, finishing up about a week ago, and we’re seeing the last of those storm waters come through our area,” explained Mary Beth Jarvis, the President and CEO of Wichita Festivals, Inc.

Jarvis said that at the beginning of this week, the river results came in at nearly 11,000 cubic feet per second going over the Lincoln Street Dam. On Thursday, Jarvis said the river is now down to about 2,600 cubic feet per second.

“The river has slowed down considerably, and we are getting really close to those flow rates that will be acceptable for people power craft to be in the river,” said Jarvis.

Another concern is what else may be flowing into the Arkansas… from debris to E. coli bacteria. That’s why in the week leading up to and through the annual event, city officials test the water daily.

“We use those daily readings to make a call that helps us have fun, but makes sure that everybody can do so safely,” Jarvis said.

Riverfest officials will then use the results to decide what activities can take place on or next to the river.

“The status of the water quality is based upon a five-day ruling geometric means, [an] average of over five days,” said Don Henry, the assistant director of the city’s Public Works and Utilities Department.

While the Arkansas has been part of the River Festival tradition since the beginning, the city has been working over the past decade to improve the quality of the water in the river.

“We knew that water quality was really an issue, even 10 years ago,” said Wichita City Council Member James Clendenin, who represents District III.

Thanks in part to a $40,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Little Arkansas River Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy works with farmers on agricultural land upstream from Wichita to reduce sediment and run-off that flows into the river.

Project partners include:

  • The City of Wichita
  • Conservation Districts in Harvey & McPherson Counties
  • Extension Councils in Harvey & McPherson Counties
  • State Conservation Commission
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks
  • K-State Research & Extension
  • USDA-CSREES

“To see the managers of the watershed, to see the farmers that we went and talked to and stood in their fields, and saw some of their practices, environmentally friendly practices [was enlightening],” said Clendenin.

The City of Wichita uses a system of color-coded flags to let the public know the condition of the water.

A blue flag means the water is okay for recreational use.

A green flag show the river is suitable for uses like boating.

And, an orange flag means public use of the river is not recommended.

KSN will have its test results back Friday night on KSN News at 6 and online on KSN.com.

Click on this image to go to the City of Wichita Website where you can find more information on the Arkansas River water quality.
Click on this image to go to the City of Wichita Website where you can find more information on the Arkansas River water quality.

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