“We should’ve been flooded,” Jay Quirarte said on Thursday’s soggy morning.
The general manager at Margarita’s Amigos restaurant on Southwest Boulevard remembers the 1993 and 1998 floods when waters swallowed the restaurant and the blocks surrounding it.
Since then, more than $73 million has been spent to protect the area from flooding, including the excavation of a 4,000-foot section of Turkey Creek, which runs parallel to Interstate 35.
It’s worked. Quirarte said the rains that turned Indian Creek into a torrent that swallowed and overturned cars and submerged the area near 103rd Street and State Line and Wornall roads Wednesday night and Thursday morning spared Southwest Boulevard “absolutely” because of work done on Turkey Creek more than a decade ago.
Likewise, the beefing up of Brush Creek a decade-plus before that means that the Country Club Plaza and Ward Parkway now are far less likely to see the flooding that came before.
So what about Indian Creek?
It’s likely to spill beyond its banks for years to come.
Flood control projects along Turkey Creek and along the Blue River by the Dodson Industrial District northeast of the former Bannister Road Federal Complex will come first in contracts that will come up for bid yet this year. Work on the Swope Industrial Area levee along the Blue River will come after that.
For now, a fix for Indian Creek remains further in the future.
Yet the deluge that flooded the area around Wornall Road and 103rd Street — cresting two feet higher than had ever been recorded there — was as rare as it was overwhelming. Engineers said Thursday that preliminary estimates reckoned that floodplain sees that much water dumped in such short a time about once every century.
Heavy rain Saturday night saturated the ground in the Indian Creek watershed that runs from Olathe through Leawood and into Kansas City. Then came heavier rains Wednesday night into Thursday morning.
“No question, this was a significant event,” said Kent Lage, the urban services manager for Johnson County Public Works.
Help is likely on the way. In April, Kansas City voters passed Question 2 as part of a larger property tax hike plan for wide-ranging infrastructure projects. The ballot measure approved $150 million for flood control, money intended to draw federal matching dollars.
Engineers at Kansas City Hall and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have talked informally about a feasibility study to search for an Indian Creek fix. The money generated by the April tax hike vote could speed that along.
“Indian Creek is obviously a high priority,” said John Grothaus in the planning office of the Kansas City office of the Corps of Engineers. “Kansas City has requested the Corps of Engineers look at flooding and options. We’re prepared to move forward with them.”
A feasibility study could launch later this year or in early 2018. It would take up to two years to complete and cost $100,000 to $200,000.
The prospect has been studied before. A 1997 study estimated flood control improvements at $17 million. A 2010 study saw a fix of about $20 million, largely to carve out a wider creek bed more capable of containing the heaviest rains.
Just when any digging might start is hard to predict, said Tom Kimes, Kansas City’s stormwater utility engineering manager. But the tax money voters approved in the spring could mean a project is just a few years away, he said, primarily because it could attract federal help. Typically, Washington covers 65 percent of flood control project costs.
“Congress is very responsive when it knows the local match is in place,” he said. “We have that now.”
Federal funding announced in June promises $21.5 million to complete work along Turkey Creek. The project includes channel widening, tunnel modifications and relocating bridges, primarily along Interstate 35 and Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City and Kansas City, Kan.
That area still sees flooding every three to five years. The last-phase project will route stormwater from 31st Street and Roanoke Road and divert it to the Turkey Creek channel just south of the Turkey Creek tunnel in Kansas City, Kan.
At Ponak’s Mexican Kitchen, general manager John Greer said this week’s storms felt like some of the soggiest days on Southwest Boulevard.
“This almost reminds me of the ‘93 flood,” he said.
That flood meant weeks of rebuilding, repeated again in 1998. Now, with pricey stormwater improvements along Turkey Creek, the restaurant remained dry.
“I think it’s working,” Greer said.