Because of its location on a floodplain, with no natural obstructions, much of Wichita has always been vulnerable to spring and fall floods from the Arkansas River, the Little Arkansas River, and the Cowskin and Chisholm Creeks.
1867 - Wichita experiences its first flood.
1877 - This was the first big flood recorded in Wichita, when it was hardly more than a village. On May 18 the Arkansas River reached a stage of 21 feet and, along with the Little Arkansas, flooded the northern section of the city and washed out parts of two bridges. For over a week many of the city streets turned into what was described as a modern Venice with various homemade "gondolas" as people tried to navigate the floodwaters.
1904 - On July 8, about 30 percent of Wichita was submerged when the overflow of Little Arkansas River and Chisholm Creek entered the narrow Arkansas River channel in the city, reaching a flood stage of 20.3 feet. Dynamite was used to blow out half of the Little Arkansas River Dam in an attempt to prevent flooding in the north part of the city. Several thousand acres of wheat in surrounding areas were ruined, and farmers claimed that their corn crops were being destroyed. According to an article in the Wichita Eagle, an investigation showed that enormous catfish were swimming in the flooded fields and eating the corn. This was known as "The Big Flood" until the flood of 1944.
1923 - Douglas Avenue floods with 13.5 feet of water.
1944 - Heavy rainfall from April 21 to 23 caused a flood which swept away five Sedgwick County bridges, including the 21st and 29th Street bridges and the Hydraulic Avenue Bridge in Wichita. It was considered to be worse than the previous floods, since the city had grown and there were consequently about 200 houses and businesses that were damaged or destroyed by the rising water, with costs estimated at nearly $5 million. This flood resulted in the preparation of construction plans for the Wichita-Valley Center Flood Control Project in 1947.
1957 - Three major storms push through the area. The project is under construction but complete enough that it diverts the flood waters preventing an estimated $1.5 million in damage and another estimated $1 million in 1958.
1962 - The Wichita-Valley Center Floodway had been completed by this time, but it had not been designed to protect the city from such unusual rainfall, which damaged the northern Wichita area adjacent to Park City.
1979 and 1998 - The "Halloween" floods - The flood of October 31, 1979 caused minimal damage. But the October 31, 1998 flood of Cowskin Creek, caused by a two-day heavy rainfall over 20 counties, resulted in $4 million in flood damage to 170 homes and businesses, and lives were lost.
The above mentioned floods were the most devastating but by no means all of them. Newspaper flooding records and the Greenways Commission History of the Big Ditch show that floods happened almost annually. In the beginning, the losses associated with flooding were looked upon as the price of living near the rivers and the advantages outweighed the disadvantage of flooding periodically. However, as the town became a city, it soon became too great a price to keep paying.