After days of debate and delay the Kings County Board of Supervisors ordered a levee in the old Tulare Lake bottom cut so flood water raging into the valley could spread out onto farmland instead of into homes and businesses.
The levee was cut at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and water gushed in to the old lake bed, drained more than 100 years ago and converted to farmland.
It wasn’t an easy decision, said Supervisor Doug Verboon.
“I don’t like coming on to someone else’s land and telling them how to do things,” he said in reference to the fact that the critical levee is on land owned by the J.G. Boswell Company. But, he said, after the Tule River broke out Friday night, flooding parts of the City of Tulare, it had to be done.
“We hope this takes some of the pressure off,” from the Tule River, as well as the Kaweah River and Cross Creek, which are dumping water in from the north and could impact Corcoran.
Kings County Supervisors had actually decided to cut the lake bottom levee on Friday, but Verboon said Boswell representatives called him to their offices and made a presentation showing what they felt was a better way to handle existing flood water, especially considering how much more is pending in the mountains.
“What they said made sense so I called a halt to cutting the levee,” Verboon said. He spent Friday night driving over the lakebed trying to understand the topography and the best course of action.
Then Tulare Count officials placed a call pleading for help and asking Kings officials to “get the water moving.”
“We had another meeting (with Boswell) and once the decision was made, it was no problem, they had the equipment and expertise and got it done,” Verboon said. He stressed that Boswell people have been working round the clock to move flood water where they can.
“I’m not for or against Boswell and I think they’ve been taking a lot of blame when it’s just that we’re dealing with a lot of water.”
In fact, Boswell pumps are taking Deer Creek water into flood cells north of Alpaugh. If it weren’t for those pumps, the water would run to the north, toward Corcoran, where excessive groundwater pumping has caused the land to sink more than 24 feet in the last eight years, according to an elevation study by the Deer Creek Storm Water District.
The lake bottom levee cut is expected to take pressure off of Cross Creek and the Highline Canal, which both bring water south under Highway 198 and toward Corcoran. The Highline can’t handle the kinds of flows it’s getting, so that water needs to be redirected into Cross Creek and Cross Creek allowed to empty into the lakebed, Verboon said.
Otherwise, Highline water could swamp Corcoran as it runs behind the town levee, which was built to hold Tulare Lake water from coming in on the west.
At some point, though, all this maneuvering may not mean much with a record-breaking snowpack waiting in the wings.
“Once all the spillways are going on all the dams, there’s not much we can do except save our equipment and structures,” Verboon said.
Will all the water rushing in, he said this is a lesson for times of drought.
“All these water districts and agencies should have been spending time and money clearing channels and preparing for this when it was dry,” he said.
For now, Supervisors’ focus is keeping the public safe and informed, he said.