Event organizers closely watching Arkansas River water flow

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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – They were clinging for their lives when the water rescuers saved them.

The Wichita Fire Department says the a mother, her child and their dog were kayaking in the Arkansas River when they came across the low head dam near 21st and West.

They were found clinging to a bridge pylon when firefighters arrived.

All three were pulled to safety, but authorities say they got lucky. Rivers can be dangerous. Sometimes people don’t make it out.

In late May, the city of Wichita closed access to the river, citing high rates of flow, high volume and heavy debris presence. That water rescue happened Sunday. The river reopened Monday morning.

Now that the Arkansas River is open, groups who frequent the waters are keeping a close eye on its status, including Michaela Rempkowski.

Rempkowski is chairwoman for Wichita Clean Streams, a waterway watch dog in the city.

“It is looking pretty good and going down quickly,” Rempkowski said.

One day into the river’s rebirth, people are already getting in to enjoy the water.

“All activities on the river are at your own risk,” Rempkowski said. “If you do not feel like you are a strong swimmer, just be aware that the river is faster than normal in the summer time.”

Rempkowski and her organization are closely watching the water flow because it’s hosting one of the biggest river days of the summer.

This Saturday they’re celebrating the second annual Big Float on the Ark River. The event brings in hundreds of kayakers and other people who enjoy the water, so the numbers matter.

If it was on Monday, Rempkowski said they would not be in the water.

“I would cancel it,” she said.

Rate of flow in rivers is typically measured in cubic feet per second (cfs), meaning how much water (cubic feet) travels a certain distance in a certain amount of time (seconds).

“We look for flows less than 1,500 [cfs] even though 1,500 is still a little bit fast,” Rempkowski said. “We would like it ideally around 1,000 cfs. Today, we were at 1,700 cfs.”

Monday the Wichita Fire Department released pictures of them saving the mother, child and dog this past weekend. Deputy Chief Stu Bevis said it’s important for people to be fully aware of the dangers they face while in a large body of water.

“We were able to get the child and dog free right as the mother lost her grip on the bridge,” Bevis said. “And we were able to fish her out of the water before she went over the dam into a very, very dangerous situation.”

“I really want people to be aware of what they are doing or where they going to enjoy the river.”

It’s an important reminder for people to be safe, despite calming conditions.

“I think, with the trend last week, we can get down below 1,500 cfs,” Rempkowski said.

Rempkowski said she will check both flow rate and water quality again before the big event.

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