The worst may be yet to come. Officials with the California Department of Water Resources predict that the snowpack will generate more runoff in the Tulare Basin than the atmospheric storms that have already inundated the area.
Peak flows in the largest rivers that feed the Tulare Basin, including the Kings, Kaweah and Kern, are expected to arrive in May or June, David Rizzardo, the department’s hydrology manager, said during a news conference Tuesday.
Historically, each of these rivers emptied into Tulare Lake, which disappeared after farmers diverted and diverted so much water beginning in the late 19th century that it dried up. The lake periodically reappears during the extremely wet seasons.
This week, during a lull between damaging winter storms and spring thaw, communities scrambled to assess the risk of flooding this summer and bolster their defenses.
“We’re taking advantage of the dry weather,” said Savanna Birchfield, a public information officer with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s incident command team that responded to the crisis.
Birchfield said emergency services have been working to raise a critical road between Allensworth and Alpaugh, two towns that have already been affected by damaging flooding. Raising the driveway should give residents a safe exit route if they need to flee. Workers are also reinforcing levees and building portable muscle-wall barriers in an attempt to control future flows.
In nearby Kings County, residents expressed fear and anguish for what is to come in the coming months during a community meeting on Wednesday.
“We don’t know how much we’ll get or when, but it will come and we want to be ready when it comes,” said Kings County Supervisor Doug Verboon.