The Big Ditch: The Wichita-Valley Center Flood Control Project


  • David Guilliams Wichita State University


Big Ditch, Arkansas River, Little Arkansas River, Chisholm Creek, flood, Army Corp of Engineering, Flood Control Act of 1936, Big Slough Floodway, Little Arkansas Floodway, Chisholm Creek Diversion


The Wichita-Valley Center Flood Control Project, commonly referred to as the "Big Ditch," protects Wichita from flooding by the Arkansas River, the Little Arkansas River, and Chisholm Creek. The name "Big Ditch" was originally derisive and started with farmers opposed to the project. The farmers, some of whom were losing their land to the federal project, saw the floodway as an example of federal Big Brother-style interference with local affairs. Years passed and the opposition faded, but the name outlived the controversy. The Big Ditch is eighteen miles long and has fifty miles of connecting channels, one hundred miles of levees, and one hundred fifty control structures, making it one of the largest water diversion projects in the United States. The Army Corp of Engineers constructed the floodway between 1950 and 1959 at the cost of $20 million. By 1975, the total amount of flood damage prevented by the project was estimated at over $33 million. While the Wichita-Valley Center Flood Control Project originally faced opposition, the results have proven that the money spent on the project was justified.1