Kansas Water Science Center
The USGS has operated a streamgage on the Arkansas River at Wichita since 1934. The gage was located on the Douglas Avenue bridge until it was moved to its present location on the Broadway bridge in 1968. This streamgage is one of more than 170 gages that the USGS operates in Kansas. Streamflow information is used for flood forecasting, reservoir operation, water administration, bridge design, and many other uses.
As part of establishing a streamgage, the USGS researches all available information from local landowners, cities, the National Weather Service, and other agencies to determine past flooding events. According to National Weather Service records, the largest flood on the Arkansas River at Wichita occurred on May 18, 1877. To help visualize the extent of this flood, the USGS has installed a marker at the Wichita WATER Center (101 E. Pawnee) that shows the high-water line. The second largest flood on the river occurred July 8, 1904, and its level was about one-half foot lower than the 1877 flood. The 1904 flood caused more damage than the 1877 flood because Wichita was more populated in 1904. According to the Wichita Eagle, the Douglas Avenue bridge was destroyed in the early afternoon of July 7, 1904.
The largest flood since the USGS began operating the gage in 1934 occurred October 31, 1979. By this time many changes had occurred on the river. The largest change was the completion of the Big Slough-Cowskin Creek and Valley Center Floodway projects. The 1979 total streamflow volume was much larger than the 1904 flood volume however, more than 30 percent of the water was diverted around the city through the floodway and flood damages were minimal. A similar event occurred on Halloween 1998 when the combined flow of the Arkansas River and the floodway nearly reached the 1904 level. Many homes along Cowskin Creek were damaged as a result of this flood.