Flood-control ditch needs $6M in repairs

? The Big Ditch, which protects a large section of Wichita from flood damage, has suffered erosion damage and needs millions of dollars in repairs, city and federal officials say.

The ditch, formally known as the Wichita-Valley Center Flood Control Project, stretches 18 miles along western Wichita and has 50 miles of connecting channels and more than 90 miles of levees. When necessary, water is diverted into the ditch from the Arkansas River, Little Arkansas River, Cowskin Creek and Chisholm Creek.

The water in the ditch usually is shallow, but it has been bank full in recent weeks and an annual inspection by the Army Corps of Engineers last week found erosion. The corps plans to complete a damage report within 90 days.

“It’s significant enough it needs to be repaired,” said Jim Martell, levee manager for the Army Corps of Engineers.

The ditch was built in the 1950s by the corps and is maintained by the city and Sedgwick County. An application for money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency sought up to $6 million for repairs, but final cost estimates will depend on the corps’ final report.

“We haven’t had anything like we did in 1993,” when flooding kept the ditch full for more than a month, said Chris Carrier, Wichita’s public works director. “But obviously, little floods can do just as much damage if you don’t fix the damage that occurs after every event. You have to get in there and fix it.”

Levees inside the ditch are sand and are protected by vegetation, said Doug Arvidson, Wichita’s flood control and storm water supervisor.

City officials want the damage repaired as soon as possible, but it’s unknown when the work could start. Just this year, the city finished repairing the last of an estimated $6 million in damage from the floods of 1993.

After the corps’ final report is done, federal permits are needed. Repair plans must consider environmental regulations protecting endangered species that live along the flood control project.

Martell said the corps was paying more attention to projects such as the Big Ditch since levees collapsed in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

“We’ve got different criteria for our inspections,” Martell said. “There is more emphasis on the levee inspections. It’s done now by teams instead of one person.”