WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Wichita felt the impact from all the recent rainfall, but thanks to the Big Ditch, the city was protected from flooding.
Today, Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell introduced Congressman Ron Estes and Senator Jerry Moran at a renaming ceremony.
M.S. ‘Mitch’ Mitchell was the engineer behind the Big Ditch, or it’s formal name, the Wichita-Valley Center Flood Control Project.
He passed away in 2017.
In 2018, President Donald Trump signed a bill renaming it to the M.S. Mitch Mitchell Floodway. It took an act of Congress to rename it because it is federal property under the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.
“Mitch was such a monumental person for our community,” said Congressman Ron Estes, R-Kansas, who advanced the bill to Washington D.C. “Just seeing that over and over that benefit that has happened over the last half century protecting our community.”
Many leaders call Mitchell a Wichita legend, but that wasn’t the case in the beginning.
Before the Big Ditch, Wichita had a long history of flooding.
“I lived in west Wichita, and I remember all the flooding downtown,” recalled Mayor Jeff Longwell.
Mitchell, who served as the flood control and maintenance supervisor for the city-county flood control office, proposed the idea of a floodway to allow the surplus water to flow away from the city.
The Flood Control Project was Mitchell’s vision, including his work that involved the design, surveying, construction and maintenance of the project.
Longwell said the project was controversial in the 1950’s, saying it was expensive and it meant people losing their land.
Many people weren’t fans of Mitchell. However, Longwell said his vision saved Wichita time and time again — which can be seen during the recent heavy rainfall.
“Our downtown would be underwater right now,” said Longwell. “The river would not have been able to hold the amount of water coming through the city. We would be like some of the communities around us. We would be underwater.”