As the Arkansas River continues its rise, the back flow of water into the river's tributaries will cause flooding in some unexpected areas off the river, officials said Tuesday.
"Anyone who lives near a creek or lake that receives any flow from the Arkansas River should be concerned," said Tabitha Clarke, a senior service hydrologist for the National Weather Service in North Little Rock. "A lot of places that never flood before are going to flood."
The large amount of water flowing into the Arkansas River from Oklahoma will work its way downriver and eventually meet the already full Mississippi River. With no place to empty, water from the Arkansas River will back up into its tributaries, officials said.
"It will cause sort of a bathtub effect," Clarke said. "For example, the Fourche La Fave River is expected to see some big flooding."
Any tributaries, lakes or creeks that feed into the Arkansas River could see large amounts of water, said Laurie Driver, a public spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"Homes next to a creek that feeds into the Arkansas River need to contact their Office of Emergency Management to check and see how they might be affected," Driver said. "People living on these subsidiaries might think they are fine, but that is not the case."
Officials from several agencies said Tuesday that they aren't sure what areas will be affected.
"We are sort of playing it by ear," Driver said. "We have never seen anything like this, so we don't know how much backup will be."
Gar Creek in Franklin County normally winds through the edge of Ozark, beneath U.S. 64 and around East Side City Park before flowing north. But the creek had already swallowed the city's park Tuesday, overtopped Barcliff Lane and was less than 10 inches from the bottom of the U.S. 64 bridge.
Back flow from the river spilled onto Main Street, where people were lining buildings with plastic tarps and sandbags.
"We're afraid it's going to top U.S. 64," Sheriff Tony Boen said. "We spent yesterday sandbagging houses, and today we're sandbagging businesses."
Melinda Chrisman said she had shared her antique shop, The Shop off Main -- at Bell and Main streets -- with a local church for years. The church has decided to find a new building because the water will almost certainly cause severe damage.
"I just don't know if I can come back," Chrisman said.
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission officials warned that the potential for flooding also exists for residences around the Craig D. Campbell Lake Conway Reservoir over the next several days.
Based on the information provided by the National Weather Service, the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, Corps of Engineers, and the Game and Fish Commission conducted a one-foot pre-emptive drawdown of the lake, said Randy Zeller, a spokesman for the commission.
"We opened up the gates and drew the water down a foot to add a little more storage in the lake," Zeller said. "We had to close the gates because the back flow would just put more water into the lake. Once the gates are closed and the river is high, there is nothing we can do."
The Arkansas River was about 5 feet from the top of the Lollie Bottoms levee in Faulkner County on Tuesday afternoon, Conway Mayor Bart Castleberry said.
Any water topping the levee could affect areas near Cadron Creek, Palarm Creek and low-lying land near Lake Conway, according to Castleberry and county attorney David Hogue.
At the Treasure Hills subdivision north of Conway off U.S. 65, volunteers, friends and relatives had stacked sandbags around the rock home of Bill and Sandra Holmes. The residence was hit by floods in 2016 and "a number of times" before, Bill Holmes said.
The water hasn't reached his home yet this year, but he fears it will, he said Tuesday as he rested in his shaded yard.
Holmes, 72, said he's already gotten the furniture and appliances out of his house, and he and his wife plan to wait out any flood at a home they have near Greers Ferry Lake.
"I've been through this a few times before," he said.
Castleberry said if the levee were to fail, flooding would occur along Tucker Creek and as far north as Tyler Street, both of which are on the city's west side.
Another area of concern is in east Conway in areas along Elsinger Drive and Caney Creek Road -- which include residential areas as well as businesses -- that normally drain into the lake, the mayor said.
The Game and Fish Commission also warned residents around Lake Atkins in Pope County to prepare for flooding from the lake if conditions worsen at Arthur V. Ormond Lock and Dam on the Arkansas River.
The Lake Atkins spillway flows into Horsehead Branch, which connects to the Arkansas River roughly 3 miles downstream. Back flow from the river into Horsehead Branch could prevent any water release from the lake.
"If the Arkansas River at the Morrilton gauge exceeds 42 feet, there is a good possibility that Horsehead Branch could flow backward over the spillway, adding floodwater to the lake," the commission said. "Combined with the forecast for up to 2 inches of rainfall, this could lead to flooding around the lake, particularly the North Shore Drive area."
Officials said they expect the floodwater to stick around for a while.
"There is a saying that Mother Nature is wrathful and she always wins, and she is proving that right now," Driver said. "I can only speculate, and I am not even going to try to do that right now."
A Section on 05/29/2019