Tuttle Creek Lake is inches from its capacity, and that’s prompted precautionary measures for potential evacuations.
Lake officials reported the lake at 1,135.82 feet above sea level at noon Friday while they increased outflows to 30,000 cubic feet of water per second. Currently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is using just the lake’s stilling basin (also known as “the tubes”) to release water and not the lake’s emergency spillway gates.
The higher release level comes after the Corps’ Thursday afternoon reservoir forecast put Tuttle Creek Lake at levels higher than the top of the spillway gates at 1,136 feet over the weekend if the outflow rates had stayed the same. In response, the Corps initially increased release levels to 27,500 cfs, and on Friday made the latest increase to 30,000 cfs.
Corps officials have not made any indication that they will open the spillway gates. However, the situation remains dynamic, Brian McNulty, operations project manager for the Corps at the lake, said at a press conference Thursday morning. Lake officials are calculating water flow rates on an hourly basis and accordingly adjusting operations.
If the lake were set to overtop the spillway gates, officials would consider opening the gates if the stilling basin could not adequately handle the outflowing water. That would significantly increase the chance for flooding in Manhattan, but McNulty said the Corps could open the emergency spillway gates at lower levels than during the 1993 flood event.
The Riley County Commission signed a declaration that will put a curfew in place if any evacuation orders are issued. Under the potential curfew, the general public would be prohibited from accessing evacuated areas between sunset and sunrise. Residents of the affected area would be restricted to their property, while emergency personnel and utility workers are exempted from the potential curfew.
People who violate the curfew could be arrested and charged with a Class A misdemeanor, but Clancy Holeman, Riley County counselor, emphasized that the measure isn’t intended to be punitive.
“We’re going to rely on everyone’s good sense, and the idea is to notify people and have them understand the rules are to protect their lives and property,” Holeman said.
Officers would use discretion in approaching people out after curfew, Holeman said, and they would be understanding of people who are lost or residents who stayed behind and are trying to evacuate or have medical emergencies. Law enforcement would only use arrests as a last-resort alternative to conversations and escorts out of the affected area.
“This prohibits people who go in to sightsee,” Holeman said. “With big weather events, people aren’t necessarily trying to do any bad things, but they can interfere with personnel efforts and jeopardize them. Particularly during nighttime hours, there’s no reason to be there if you don’t live there.”
Utility workers with Kansas Gas Service began shutting off gas to areas that could be affected by a potential flood. Although no evacuations have been ordered, they warned residents against trying to turn gas at their homes back on, as technicians with the service must check gas appliances before that can happen.
Westar Energy said they would only shut off electric service to large areas if ordered to by local officials, if company workers determined there was a safety issue, or if residents requested it. The company reported no area outages at noon Friday.
Officials issued an evacuation advisory for the Dix addition, Berry Streets, and Countryside Estates and Rocky Ford mobile home parks on Wednesday evening, indicating that high water was expected to impact property in the area in the next 24 to 72 hours. Emergency personnel went door to door notifying residents of the advisory.
However, the advisory was still a step down from an evacuation notice, which would include an order to evacuate and trigger the county’s curfew declaration.
In response, the American Red Cross opened a shelter at Westview Community Church at 615 Gillespie Drive on Wednesday evening. Shelter officials reported 11 people and 11 pets at the shelter over Thursday night. They said it’s difficult to anticipate how many people will come in the next few days, and that they’ll have to wait and see what the water does.
As the situation develops, The Mercury will provide updates at themercury.com.