As Tuttle Creek Lake levels continue to rise, area officials have been warning residents to be alert and prepared in the event of flooding.
Here is a guide to how the dam works.
What does the dam do?
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the dam, completed the dam in 1962. Its purpose is to mitigate flood damage, serve as a municipal and industrial water supply, provide river and stream navigation support, support fish and wildlife, and serve as a recreation spot.
Basically Tuttle Creek is part of a larger system of dams that help to maintain stream flow and prevent flooding across several states.
Tuttle Creek Dam was created after the flood of 1951, which swept down the Kansas River valley into the Missouri River basin when intense rains occurred over the Kansas River basin. According the Kansas Historical Society, flooding started just above Manhattan on the Big Blue River and eventually covered downtown Manhattan with 8 feet of water.
That event created the push to build the dam. The Corps estimates the dam has prevented billions of dollars of flood damage since it opened.
How does the dam work?
The main components of the dam include an earthen embankment section, which serves as the main water barrier; a stilling basin that allows controlled release of water out of the dam; and emergency spillway gates, which can release much more water very quickly during flood events if needed.
The stilling basin, or “tubes” as many people call them, are where water is normally released.
The spillway gates are a concrete structure that extends across the Big Blue River channel, which is 720 feet wide. Its purpose is to provide an additional outlet to release water from the dam if a major flood event were to occur. According to the Corps, at its maximum, the spillway can pass up to 4.3 million gallons per second through its gate or 578,300 cubic feet per second. This would roughly be six and half times the volume of an Olympic-size swimming pool per second.
The only time the spillway gates were opened was in 1993 after heavy summer rains caused water levels to reach 1,136 feet. The lake would have to reach this point once more before officials would start releasing water from the spillway without regard to downstream conditions.
What flows into the lake?
Many creeks and rivers that stretch across central Nebraska feed into Tuttle Creek Lake, with the largest tributary being the Big Blue River. That river flows for about 359 miles from central Nebraska into Kansas. It meets the Kansas River just below the southern end of Tuttle Creek in Manhattan.
What flows out of the lake?
The lake flows into the Blue River, which feeds into the Kansas River, which feeds into Missouri River, which feeds into the Mississippi River. The Mississippi River then stretches past Tennessee and through Mississippi and eventually empties out into the Gulf of Mexico.
The target point lake officials look toward to dictate releases is in Waverly, Missouri, about 73 river miles east of Kansas City. The station there is still in the major flood stage point at 31.7 feet.
How did we get to this point?
Serious flooding in areas north of the lake and along the Missouri River have affected the flows at Tuttle Creek Lake. Lake officials have been keeping outflow rates at a minimum to avoid over-inundating areas below the dam.
Anything that flows into the Kansas and Missouri River basins also can impact flows further down the river.
A rainy spring has caused lake levels to rise steadily, leading to the reservoir’s third-highest elevation since it was created.
Officials must monitor all these moving parts to create the minimum amount of damage and impact to people.
Nearly 400 students celebrated at the Manhattan High School graduation ceremony Sunday at Bramlage Coliseum.
Family, friends and teachers filled the seats to watch the students and listen to student speakers give advice and their perspectives.
Greg VanDyke Jr., who said he “rocks the nickname Preacher G,” gave an uplifting, hopeful message for his peers.
He recalled building friendships and enduring loss throughout their years together, saying he believed all the students were winners for getting back up when life knocked them down. He also reminded them that sometimes, when life knocks them down, they can ask for help from those around them.
“It’s going to be OK if you’re not fully OK,” VanDyke said. “The truth is, we did not get here by ourselves. We’ve had the support of family and friends.”
He said they may start to believe the old adage of “the grass always looks greener on the other side,” but gave them tips to get their own green grass.
“If you plant your seeds, give them water and sunlight, cut the grass as it continues to grow, your grass will be just as green,” he said.
He led them in a chant — “I believe that we just won” — as he ended his speech.
The second speaker, Jered Zhang, said he wanted to take a more realistic approach.
Zhang said the world is what the students will make of it.
He told the mythology of the Greek king Sisyphus, who was punished for being deceitful by being forced to push a rock up a steep hill for eternity, only to have the rock roll back down the hill every time it neared the top. He said life could be equally disappointing sometimes for his peers.
“Some of you will work for others to feed yourselves to continue to work,” he said. “Your work may not be owned by you. We’ve all heard of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, but what about the engineers who work for them?”
For the entire audience, he gave a reminder of change.
“It’s never too late to dream of something better, if not for you, then for your children or grandchildren,” he said.
After the final students crossed the stage, Principal Greg Hoyt congratulated the students, reminded them to be careful in their celebrations and dismissed them a final time, which was met with cheers, applause and a rain of graduation caps.
Tuttle Creek Lake rose 1.38 feet after this weekend’s storms, but officials don’t expect a significant change in the current situation going forward.
As of Tuesday, the lake elevation sits at 1,125.90 feet above sea level, about 50.9 feet above its normal pool.
Brian McNulty, project operations manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the lake, said there is still 30% of the flood pool available. “That’s a pretty substantial rain event that would fill that,” he said.
The outflow remains at the minimum of 200 cubic feet per second. McNulty said that level of outflow would change based on both the lake level and Missouri River level based on the station gauge at Waverly, Missouri, which is about 73 river miles east of Kansas City.
With the lake level between 1,102 feet and 1,128 feet, the Corps could release water above the minimum outflow if the Missouri River at Waverly is flowing below 130,000 cubic feet per second. As of Monday, the gauge reads as a flow of 166,000 cubic feet per second.
McNulty said if the lake hits more than 1,128.3 feet, the Corps could release additional water if the Waverly gauge shows a flow below 180,000 cubic feet per second.
However, McNulty said officials don’t expect the lake to rise that high despite the rain forecast this week.
The lake will have to rise to 1,136 feet, the levels reached in 1993 when officials opened the emergency spillway gates, before officials start releasing water without regard to downstream conditions.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is holding a public meeting from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Manhattan Fire Station headquarters at 2000 Denison Ave. in the first floor meeting hall.
The Wildcat Creek area avoided flooding on Monday and Tuesday morning, but more rainfall is expected this week.
Manhattan had 1.28 inches of rain in the 24 hours that ended at 7 a.m. Tuesday, bringing May’s total rainfall to 11.61 inches. That is 8.26 inches above normal.
K-State climatologist Mary Knapp said Manhattan is experiencing the wettest May on record for this point in the month.
Rainfall Monday night stayed mostly to the south and east of Manhattan, sparing Wildcat Creek from flash flooding. As of Tuesday morning, Wildcat Creek at Scenic Drive was observed at 8.97 feet. To reach the flood stage, water levels would have to reach 14 feet. The creek last reached the major flood stage, which is at 23 feet, on Labor Day 2018 when the creek at Scenic elevated to 28.29 feet.
“People will need to be alert to rising waters,” Knapp said. “Everything is saturated.”
Wildcat Creek experienced minor flooding overnight Saturday after about three inches of rain, which filled storage and retention ponds.
According to the National Weather Service of Topeka, Riley County is under a flash flood watch until 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Another round of heavy rainfall is expected to move through the area and with grounds being saturated, the rain could lead to flash flooding.
A flood warning also continues through the evening at the Kansas River at Manhattan and Fancy Creek near Randolph.
In addition, the county is under a hazardous weather outlook. Thunderstorms that develop Tuesday afternoon and evening may become severe with potentially hazardous hail and damaging winds.
Officials said Wildcat Creek residents should sign up for alerts, take precautions to protect important items and have a plan to evacuate if necessary.
Saturday’s rain caused flash flooding within Manhattan. Third Street’s intersections with both Bluemont Avenue and Tuttle Creek Boulevard; and N. Manhattan Avenue’s intersection with both Bluemont Avenue and Claflin Road were closed briefly Saturday night.
There is also a chance of rain Thursday through Saturday.
The record for May was set in 1995, which saw 14.73 inches.
The Riley County Police Department’s final 2020 budget proposal is a 3.2% increase from last year.
The Riley County Law Board approved the final proposal for publication at its meeting Monday. The proposal requests $22.19 million from the city of Manhattan and Riley County, up $693,801 from $21.49 million last year.
The largest increase is in salaries. Overall, the department is requesting an increase of $332,090 for full-time employee salaries and $125,262 for overtime pay.
Capt. Josh Kyle said the department lowered proposed increases in other accounts to be able to include a 1.9% cost-of-living increase to employees. Overall, that will cost the department $281,867 in the proposed budget. The board asked Kyle at its previous meeting to adjust the proposals to minimize the spike in the overall budget.
The department requested new amounts in other areas:
• $150,985 for overtime
• $47,083 for on-call pay
• $145,000 to create an IT Reserve Fund
• $40,000 for potential legal fees
Capt. Erin Freidline said the purpose of the IT Reserve Fund is to address expected spikes in equipment costs in 2022 and 2023. Freidline said the department will have to replace computers in vehicles and servers in that period.
The law board will hold a public hearing on the budget proposal at their June 17 meeting before they vote on whether to approve the budget.