Woodlake family devastated by flooding, blames Tulare County RMA

The Diaz family calls out Tulare County Resource Management Agency for rusted, unmaintained floodgates that caused their property and surrounding homes to become flooded

WOODLAKE – After heavy rainfall and major snow melt, Woodlake faced knee-deep floodwaters in some areas. One family, however, said the damage on their property could have been prevented.

The Diaz family lives on an olive farm just a mile outside of town. The farm has been in the family for five generations, but this is the first that the Diaz family has seen such a devastating flood of their orchards and homes as they did last Friday. The culprits were floodgates that failed to be opened by county employees, according to Diaz. These gates were rusted shut, and city officials were unable to open them because the gates are in the county of Tulare’s jurisdiction.

“When it breached our property, I called the Wutchumna Ditch Company. They said there’s nothing we can do. I said we’re flooding. The water is coming to my house, we’re flooding,” Diaz said. “Wutchumna has done everything they could to help us. The county to this day has not been out to help us.”

The floodgates are connected to both Antelope Creek and the Wutchumna Canal. There are five of these gates, which are large steel doors that are meant to be opened in the case of heavy rainfall to prevent the creek from flooding over its natural path. Antelope Creek flows along the eastern edge of their property, and crosses paths with the canal, which flows on the south side of the property.

After a storm had hit the Valley on Friday, March 10, the water breached the Diaz property at 2:30 p.m., and within a few hours the entire surrounding neighborhood was flooded, with ten homes filled with water. Some areas of the surrounding property had water that reached up to their knees. Without the gates being opened, the water had nowhere to go except for onto the Diaz property. Just a few days before the storm, an unidentified official from the Wutchumna Ditch Company, which is in frequent contact with Diaz’s husband, Tim Diaz, had informed them that the floodgates were not going to be opened. They were directed to contact the Tulare County Resource Management Agency, but had little response.

“[They said] the gates were closed and they could not be opened because they were rusted shut and broken,” Sarah said. “They had tried to do what they could to open the gates, but they couldn’t. So, they notified the county who were the people that were supposed to maintain those gates. The county has not been out [here] to this day.”

The water had reached two and a half feet over the Diaz driveway. Sarah’s daughter was driving back and forth from Woodlake to get sand bags, however, the water reached a point where she was no longer able to drive through the property and onto the main road. That night on Friday, around 9 p.m., an unidentified neighbor called Sarah and said that he was going to use his excavator and dig a small ditch, so that the water in Antelope Creek could flow into the canal. Treading through almost five feet of water, according to Tim, the neighbor successfully dug an outlet, allowing for the water to recede. Tim called his fellow neighbor a “hero,” and mentioned that if he hadn’t taken action, the damage could have been much worse.

“We were resigned to the fact that our home is going to flood,” Sarah said. “We have an upstairs so we were going to move upstairs. We called 911, we called the sheriff, we called the fire department, we called everybody we could, even city officials and no one could help us.”

The storm raged on Friday, but Sarah said the gates were not opened until Tuesday. However, the county did not open them. Instead, a crew from the Wutchumna Ditch Company came out and pried open the rusted and broken gates.

Tim said that his brother’s mobile home, which resides on the property, was completely flooded. During an interview with the Sun-Gazette, he pointed out a fridge that laid on a soggy dirt pathway. It belonged to his brother. Tim said his brother “lost everything,” as a result of the flood. Just a few feet away, a basketball hoop, still attached to its stand, laid in his olive orchard, still surrounded by other debris that washed into the property. Tim said his crops suffered as a result of the flood, as well.

“My neighbor  was using a bucket to get water out of his car that was parked in his garage,” Sarah said.

Tim reached out to the county supervisor of district 4, Eddie Valero, who did end up coming to the property days later. He had also reached out to Woodlakes city staff, which led city manager Ramon Lara and chief of police Mike Marquez to also visit the property. However, the county’s resource management employees have still not been out to look at the gates or the property’s damage. According to Sarah, resource management did not warn them that the gates were closed, nor did they warn them of potential flooding. Sarah herself had to warn her neighbors when she saw the water rising.

A spokesperson with the Tulare County Resource Management Agency has not responded to calls from The Sun-Gazette as of press time.

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