City of Visalia prepares for worst case scenario as Kaweah Lake reaches capacity, experts say Terminus dam spillway will be operational until tomorrow afternoon
VISALIA – As there seems to be no escape from the rain and flooding, Visalia continues to prepare for the worst case scenario throughout town to help prevent devastation to the city.
In the morning on March 16, Lake Kaweah reached its capacity allowing for the spillway at Terminus dam to be activated. The additional flow could cause several waterways in Visalia to reach capacity and spill over at various points with some localized flooding near the waterways. It is still unknown the amount of damage these added outflows could have on surrounding communities. Chief of public affairs for the Sacramento district Army Corps of Engineers Rick Brown said it is important that residents listen to their local entities for any information on flooding.
“What is really important for people who live downstream to understand is that their local emergency responders are the city of Visalia, the county of Tulare, so they really need to pay attention to those folks in regard to any emergency actions, any evacuation orders, etc,” Brown said.
In a matter of two days, Lake Kaweah has risen almost 20 feet in elevation or 39,315 acre feet. At 3 p.m. on Tuesday, March 14, the reservoir had 146,972 acre feet and by today at 8 a.m., the reservoir had reached its capacity of 185,630 acre feet. However, just because the reservoir has reached its capacity does not mean there is major cause for concern. Brown said the Army Corps of Engineers is strategically releasing water through outflow outlets to regulate the amount of water in the reservoir.
As of Thursday afternoon, the normal release of water from the reservoir is being held at around 5,700 cubic feet per second (CFS). In addition to the controlled releases, the spillway is currently operational and expected to peak at a flow of 750 cfs according to Brown. The spillway has become operational since the lake reached capacity. It allows water to bypass the dam and everyday outlets by allowing more water to flow from the dam. Therefore filling up the lower channels and creating more room in the reservoir. For a relative comparison, Brown compared a cubic foot to an average basketball to allow for a better visual as to the amount of water that is being dealt with.
“To give a little context, when we say cubic feet per second, you can imagine a basketball is about one cubic foot, so imagine about 750 basketballs flowing out of there every second,” Brown said.
Brown said they do not have control of how much water flows through the spillway in the same way they do through regular releases. But the amount that is currently flowing through the spillway is minimal and is expected to stay minimal. Brown said the spillway is in good working order and fulfilling its function the way it was designed to.
There is not any way to predict the amount of damage due to flooding that will accompany the additional release of water from the outlet and spillway. Brown said by tomorrow afternoon, flows from the spillway should subside, but the controlled releases will continue. He said they have been working incredibly close with the cities downstream to evaluate how much water the channels can handle, in efforts to not overwhelm them.
“We know that there’s kind of a max channel capacity that you want to push down before we know things will start getting torn up, or eroding,” Brown said. “So we know those exist, we know that because we work with those downstream agencies.”
Yesterday, Dry Creek was running at higher levels due to its other tributaries, like local rain runoff or snow melt. So the Kaweah outlet was able to restrict the amount of water it was releasing to be as low as 1,513 cfs. The corps of engineers has the ability to watch those levels of outside sources and fluctuate the outflow accordingly.
“We didn’t want to over stress the downstream channels,” Brown siad. “So we have that capability to watch what’s going on downstream, we can back off a little bit on our releases, but when we see Dry Creek flows going down like we did this morning, then we can open the [Kaweah outlet] back up and release more water.”
As for Visalia, they are preparing their city for the worst case scenario. Police chief Jason Salazar said they have not seen any flooding yet, but they are working to make sure they are aware and in a position to respond right away. There is not a way of telling what the impacts are going to be.
“It could be one waterway, it could be another, it is just what the impacts are, as that water comes down to,” Salazar said. “And our job is just to keep an eye on that and be prepared to flex and adapt if and when it does happen.”
No evacuations are anticipated in the city of Visalia due to the reduced releases from Terminus Dam and the work done in advance to control the water levels as much as possible.
The city of Visalia is still preparing to respond as situations arise throughout the city and will keep the public informed on social media, through text alerts, on their emergency update webpage at www.visalia.city/emergency and has made information available via a 24-hour flooding hotline at 559-713-4600.
To sign up for text alerts, residents can text “VISALIA” to +1-844-713-7830 or for Spanish text alerts text “Español” to +1-844-713-7830.
Similar to Visalia, Woodlake has several homes along the St. John’s river. According to city administrator Ramon Lara there are about 80 homes that could be in danger. The city of Woodlake has issued a potential evacuation alert to residents. Lara said they are doing all they can to be ready for the flooding before it comes. He said they are trying to keep levees built up where water levels are already high and pay close attention to multiple areas throughout town.
“What we can do is make sure we keep the levees from being breached, so we continue to reinforce them,” Lara said. “We continue to monitor them twenty four, seven, and we continue to keep the public informed that way as soon as we know, they know if there’s any major issues.”