Tulare County to use mining pit to recharge aquifer with flood water

More than 70% of the project could be funded through FEMA grants helping communities prepare for natural disasters

SACRAMENTO – Long before the phrase climate change existed, California has been locked in a cycle of floods and droughts. As the nation’s most diverse geographic state and its most populous, the extreme weather pattern, compounded by climate change, has made Californians more susceptible to a variety of natural disasters including drought, wildfires, floods, mudslides, earthquakes and rising sea levels. 

Working to reduce the long-term risks of natural disasters, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency of Services (Cal OES) announced last month it is applying for $250 million in federal funding for proactive projects preparing communities for emergencies instead of reacting to them. One project in Tulare County plans to reuse an excavated mining pit to recharge groundwater levels with floodwater, which would provide more water for irrigating crops and drinking water while also serving as a habitat for migratory birds. According to Cal OES, the project is requesting $16.27 million in federal funding for the nearly $23 million project.

The Tulare County project is among 14 submitted for $350 million in federal funding through the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program. Administered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), BRIC is designed to shift focus away from reactive disaster spending and toward research-supported, proactive investment in community resilience. Examples of BRIC projects are ones that demonstrate innovative approaches to partnerships, such as shared funding mechanisms, and/or project design.

Examples of other projects submitted for potential funding include:

  • Marin County (Flood): Build new seawalls along three roadways to protect the communities adjacent to the Belvedere Lagoon.
  • Nevada County (Wildfire): Address wildfire risks in Grass Valley by creating defensible space around target neighborhoods and modifying potential fuels around critical infrastructure.
  • Orange County (Flood): Install an elevated berm and vegetated sand dunes to protect the Pacific Coast Highway and over a thousand feet of shoreline.
  • San Diego County (Flood): Construct a living levee along an existing trail to limit the potential for flooding in the Bayside community and create more usable recreation space.
  • San Francisco County (Flood, Sea Level Rise, Earthquake): Identify, evaluate, and explore the benefits of innovative natural and nature-based mitigation solutions. These include nearshore reefs, submerged aquatic vegetation, creek-to-Baylands reconnection, and tidal marshes.

Being able to cover more than 70 percent of the cost of these projects through federal funding will assist these communities in becoming stronger and safer.

 “This is a historic shift from reactive disaster spending to actual proactive investment in community resilience,” said Ryan Buras, Deputy Director of Recovery Operations at Cal OES. “These projects will help increase resilience and significantly reduce repetitive losses in communities across the state, some who have suffered over and over from the devastating effects of wildfires and other natural disasters.”

Related to this federal program, there is $1 billion in funding available for local communities, Tribal Governments and territories nationwide to fund infrastructure projects that aim to reduce risk from drought, wind, wildfire, earthquake, and sea level rise.

In an effort to notify, guide, and support potential applicants, Cal OES performed outreach to communities across the state, providing webinar training and direct technical assistance in the development of these projects. During the outreach, Cal OES identified the following criteria as making the projects more likely to attract funding:

  • Mitigating risk to critical infrastructure or achieving whole community risk-reduction 
  • Providing protection and benefits for disadvantaged communities 
  • Addressing climate impacts including sea level rise, drought, extreme precipitation or heat, wildfire, and/or more frequent storms 
  • Addressing and anticipating future climate, demographic, population, and/or land use changes
  • Including Public-private partnerships

Seeking this additional federal funding is part of Cal OES’ continued work to build community resilience among vulnerable individuals living in the areas of the state most susceptible to natural disasters. Programs at Cal OES that aim to protect Californians most at risk of fires, floods, earthquakes, and other natural disasters include:

  • Prepare California ($100 million), aimed at reducing long-term risks of disasters, such as flooding, earthquakes, wildfires, landslides, or dam failure, by investing in infrastructure improvements designed to protect communities;
  • Listos California ($25 million), which offers free print, online, text message, social media and streaming audio and video resources Californians can use and share to promote disaster preparedness in their homes and communities;
  • Home Hardening ($25 million), a program to provide simple, low-cost retrofits for buildings and structures to decrease their flammability potential during wildfires.

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