California officials believe that tens of thousands of people living near Tulare Lake are unlikely to experience flooding this year, thanks to improving weather conditions and swift planning following a series of powerful storms that refilled the basin for the first time in decades.
The backstory : Tulare Lake in California’s Central Valley was once the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River, fed by snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada each spring.
- However, the lake eventually went dry as settlers dammed and diverted water for agriculture.
- This year, the lake started to reconstitute after the Golden State was hit with a dozen atmospheric rivers packed with massive amounts of rain and snow.
The situation on the ground: Water now covers more than 160 square miles in southern Kings County.
- Most of the flooding is farmland, but a month ago, computer models showed rising waters threatened homes in the communities of Corcoran, Stratford, Alpaugh, and Allensworth.
- However, state officials said they now don’t expect those communities to flood due to bolstering levees around the city of Corcoran, warmer weather evaporating more water from the lake, and farmers diverting more water for irrigation.
What they’re saying: “We are not forecasting nearly as severe of damage as perhaps we were looking at several weeks ago,” said Brian Ferguson.
- However, state officials warned that things could change quickly if more storms come and shower the mountains with warm rainfall to melt snow much faster than expected and cause more flooding. The state has moved lots of supplies to the region to prepare for this, including 2 million sandbags.
- Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier this month announced $17 million to raise the levees protecting the city of Corcoran. The levees have sunk into the ground as officials pumped lots of water from underground during dry years.
- This is the third time either the state or federal government will intervene to raise the levees.
- The governor also issued an executive order earlier this year to make it easier for people to use floodwater to refill groundwater basins. The state’s goal is to refill about 500,000 acre-feet of groundwater per year.
- However, the state is on pace to refill 3.3 million acre-feet this year, according to Paul Gosselin, deputy director of the Statewide Groundwater Management Office within the California Department of Water Resources.