Heavy flooding expected in California in the wake of April’s record snow melt, despite the ongoing drought.
Over a dozen atmospheric rivers have poured rain and snow into the mountains of California this winter, and its drought-hardened ground can’t take the water. Sometime in May, a reservoir on the north fork of the Kings river is expected to get three times the water it can hold, as snow melts in the Sierra Nevada.
A century ago, Tulare Lake was the largest lake west of the Mississippi. It grew each winter, absorbing snowmelt from the mountains. But over time, settlers dammed and diverted the rivers that fed the lake, mostly to irrigate crops. The lake went dry. Today, it’s a vast swath of farmland.
Correction: Today, it’s a vast swath of flooded farmland. The ghost of Lake Tulare is two feet deep, covering roads and drowning crops, with just trees and utility poles jutting above the waves.
This light flooding is caused by officials increasing the outflow from the Pine Flat Reservoir to make room for the expected heavy flooding this spring, which is predicted to still exceed the reservoir’s capacity no matter what they do. Old riverbeds that might have taken up the excess are gone under more farmland or roads or suburbs.
Residents of the area below the dam have revived a decades-old network of neighbors for the first time since 1983 to assist each other in the event of heavy flooding. The last time the Island Property Protection Association activated, there was no such thing as text messages or even emails to quickly spread the word, said Tony Oliveira, a former county supervisor and the network’s administrator.
In a week, more than 200 people volunteered to help neighbors through the network, and the group’s website received more than 4,000 hits.
“It’s going to be four months of holding our breath,” Oliveira said.
Photo: Phil Silverman / Shutterstock