The Arkansas River is out of flood stage in the Fort Smith area for the first time in more than three weeks.
The river early Thursday morning dipped below 22 feet — out of minor flood stage — at the Van Buren gauge. National Weather Service forecasters predict the river will remain just below minor flood stage through Monday night, according to NWS hydrograph projections.
The river fell from the June 1 area record crest of 40.79 feet.
“We’ve been dry and rain-free for the past several days, so we were able to stop the releases at Keystone Dam sufficiently enough for Arkansas to fall below flood stage,” said National Weather Service Meteorologist Robert Darby. Keystone Dam sits upstream from Tulsa and largely controls the downstream flow and levels of the Arkansas River.
The Arkansas River for more than a week at the end of May was in major flood stage before it crested at its current area record. Historic downpours in south-central Kansas and northwestern Oklahoma that collected in the basin above Keystone Dam caused these levels, Darby said.
The floodwaters infiltrated virtually every structure in Moffett and affected roughly 500 homes in Fort Smith, according to city and county officials. Damage from the floods prompted President Donald Trump to sign disaster declarations for several areas in Arkansas and Oklahoma including Sebastian, Crawford and Sequoyah counties.
Darby said the river probably won’t noticeably drop for another week.
“We’re looking at the potential for some rainfall into next week, so we’ll have to watch that,” Darby said. “The greatest chance for heavy rainfall will be east-central Oklahoma and maybe into west-central Arkansas.”
The rainfall over the next week in the region as well as in southwest Missouri and southeast Kansas may cause a temporary rise in the river flows, said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Laurie Driver. The Arkansas River on Thursday flowed at an estimated 165,000 cubic feet per second at the Van Buren gauge down from an estimated 570,000 cfs on June 1.
“We won’t experience anything near what we experienced at the end of May, but there may be a bump,” she said.
Corps of Engineers officials expect the flow rate at the Van Buren gauge to recede to 150,000 cfs by Friday and remain there into the first week of July unless the forecast rain causes an increase. Officials issue a small craft advisory when the river flows at 70,000 cfs, which is 40,000 cfs above normal levels for summer months.
Driver said it could take two to three weeks before some vessels can navigate the river and four to six weeks before it’s “closer to normal and functional.”
“Our goal is to have our locks functional by the time flows are conducive for tow traffic,” Driver said.
Even with the flow rate and the forecast rain, Fort Smith officials are still happy the river has dropped.
″(Residents) dealt with the worst of the worst, and now we’ll spend a little time giving thanks and prepare for the long cleanup ahead,” said Fort Smith Mayor George McGill. “Our city is going to respond and be restored to what she is, I have no doubt.”