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Heavy rains create waterfalls, new flooding records

7/17/2014

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

ELKADER -- When you spend every waking day out on the 10,000-acre Pyramid Ranch in western Gove County, you're bound to get "some great photo opportunities."

Kyle Lyons had one of those opportunities recently when heavy rains to the northwest of the ranch were more than rivers and draws could handle.

As a result, the typically dry Pyramid Ranch -- so named because it contains Monument Rocks, the Pyramids to local folks -- became a land of 1,000 waterfalls.

Lyons just happened to snap a dramatic photo of the scene with his cellphone camera.

While the heaviest rains were to the northwest, rainfall at the Pyramid Ranch was no slouch, amounting to almost 15 inches in the last part of May through June.

The biggest rains fell on the final Sunday in June, with heavy rain and flooding stretching from Winona in northwest Logan County to the southeast into Gove County.

Rainfall reports of 5 to 8 inches overnight were not uncommon.

Lyons snapped his photograph on the east side of the ranch, well away from the Smoky Hill River, where rampaging waters were pushing downstream. But it was well within the heavy rain area.

As the water rushed through the area, it was topping dams, cascading over the berms designed to hold back water.

Before June started, all but one of the ponds on the ranch were empty.

Now, he said, "every one of the dams is as full as it can get."

The rampaging waters rushed downstream along the Smoky Hill and its many tributaries, working its way past the Elkader and Arnold gaging stations, before finally dumping into Cedar Bluff Reservoir.

Water levels in the Trego County lake shot nearly 4 feet higher, adding 11,270 acre-feet -- 3.7 billion gallons -- of water to the reservoir.

"It's going to be pretty impressive," said Nathan Sullivan, a member of the Hays U.S. Geological Survey team that maintains and monitors the river gauges in western Kansas.

He's also the one who headed out to Elkader -- a long-gone Logan County community approximately 25 miles south of Oakley -- to measure flow in the Smoky Hill River.

When he arrived, water was flowing at nearly 771 cubic feet per second under the bridge spanning the Smoky, but that's less than a tenth of its peak.

Based on historical records maintained by the USGS, the 10,300 cfs flowing under the bridge June 29 was the second highest peak on record. The water that day was 9.36 feet deep.

The biggest flood came May 30, 1938, when 71,000 cfs was flowing and the water was 13.2 feet deep.

A cubic foot of water equals 7.5 gallons, so the 71,000 cfs rate means 6.1 billion gallons of water was passing under the bridge each day.

"That 71,000 is far and away the highest flow," Sullivan said.

Some of the flow was lost, however, in the latest flood, as the water headed downstream, measured at the Arnold gauge, in Trego County.

There, the peak flow amounted to 3,000 cfs, approximately 259 million gallons a day.

The water was 7.17 feet deep June 30.

That's only good enough to be the 23rd highest on record.

The peak also was May 30, 1938, when 87,000 cfs -- 7.5 billion gallons a day -- passed under the bridge there.

While 1960, 1957 and 1951 were other peak years, Sullivan noted 1951 was a big flood year in northwest Kansas.

Lyons said there weren't any really big rains on the Pyramid Ranch, just plenty of good size rains.

"Every time it rained, we got an inch or 2," he said. "Now, we're setting pretty good for grass and water for cattle."