Cal Fire and local agencies give rundown of current flood damages at press conference, state officials reach out to aid Tulare County
SACRAMENTO – After months of rainstorms and heavy snow melt, local agencies briefed residents on current damages within the county, as well as current evacuation orders and warnings.
On April 3, local agencies and CAL FIRE held a press conference, and said the county is experiencing an increase of damaged homes and structures due to recent flooding. In the same breath, most of the cities within the county were issued with an evacuation warning. This all comes after the most recent deluge. Officials are saying that more storms are set to hit the county, and local lakes, including the once phantom Tulare Lake Basin, will continue to fill. Local and state officials are continuing to monitor the situation and will be giving regular updates.
At the conference, the county’s public information officer Carrie Montero said that 37 structures were destroyed, 1,082 structures were damaged and 23,921 structures were threatened. In order to keep this number from growing, the county is continuing to work on keeping breeches down. Deputy fire chief Jefferey McLaughlin said that currently, the county is working on repairing roads in Alpaugh and Allensworth, St. John’s Canal and repairs on bridges, especially in Three Rivers.
As the county prepares for storms over the next few months, officials said they are preparing communities through evacuation warnings. At the conference, Cal Fire officials said that there is typically some time to react. That’s why the evacuation warnings are prevalent and in place, to prepare people to be ready for an actual evacuation.
CURRENT EVACUATION ORDERS
There is currently an evacuation order for Alpaugh, for the area north of Avenue 136, in between Highway 43 and Road 16. Recent storms dropping rain and snow over southern Tulare County and associated foothills have produced historic flows to the White River, Deer Creek and Poso Creek. There are currently breeches in these rivers and creeks, throwing Alpaugh into a prolonged evacuation order.
McLaughlin said that Cal Fire’s biggest operation right now is to continue the road construction project and the elevation of Avenue 56 from Highway 43 into Alpaugh and Allensworth. Not only that, but they will also be providing emergency egress and ingress to the two communities.
There is also an evacuation order in Porterville on the north and south banks of the Tule River. However, McLaughlin said the situation is improving.
“We want to continue to make sure that the repairs that were done are still holding and looking good,” McLaughlin said.
Not only is there an evacuation order in Alpaugh, but there is also an evacuation warning in the area. This order consists of all roads, avenues and access roads within the communities of Alpaugh. The area boundaries are south of Avenue 136, east of Road 16, west of Highway 43 and north of Avenue 16.
In Pine Flat, all homes, businesses, structures on both sides of roadways, and all access roads south of Deer Creek Mill Road, east of Pine Plat Drive north of White River Road and west of Flying T Drive.
In the neighboring community of Allensworth, there is an evacuation warning for the north side of Highway 43 and south of Avenue 56.
In South Tulare evacuation warnings apply to all homes, businesses, and access roads, south of Avenue 192, west of Road 152, north of the North Branch of the Tule River, east of Highway 99. The area will consist of Avenue 184, Avenue 186, Avenue 190, Road 112, Road 128, Road 136, Oakdale Avenue and Road 142.
In Exeter, there is a warning for the Yokohl Creek Area. The warning applies to all homes, businesses and access roads south of Highway 198, west of Yokohl Drive, east of High Sierra Drive, including Road 217, Eaton Road, Badger Hill Avenue and Avenue 295.
For Cutler, there is an evacuation warning for all businesses and homes along Road 124, south of Avenue 408, down Railroad Drive to Santa Fe Drive, which turns into Eddy, from Avenue 407 to Lee Road to Avenue 408. The road is closed at Road 124, south of Avenue 408.
In Porterville, there is a warning for the south side of the 100 block of Rio Vista Avenue. The order does not include Highway 190 or Road 284 to the Schafer Dam. There is a warning for the west of Porterville on Olive Avenue to Avenue 144 and the Friant/Kern Canal to the Tule River and Westwood Street. It also includes both sides of the Tule River from Richard L. Schafer Dam at Lake Success in Porterville to the east side of Road 284. Not only that, but it extends from Schafer Dam, west on Avenue 146 to Road 284, south on Road 284 to the south side of the Tule River, from the south side of the Tule River to the Schafer Dam and north along Schafer Dam to Avenue 146.
In the Springville area, there is a warning along the south bank of the Tule River, the homes and businesses from the Lower Rio Nista, and east of Bridge Drive to east of Pleasant Oak Drive on Highway 190. This will include all roads, access roads and areas in between. Not included is Pleasant Oak Drive.
In Teviston, the evacuation warning includes residents and businesses south of Avenue 84, south on Road 128, Road 130 to Deer Creek, and east along the north bank of Deer Creek to Road 140. It also includes the north of Road 140, to Avenue 84, west on Road 84 to Road 128 and all roads and avenues in between.
STATE AID FOR TULARE LAKE BASIN
At the conference, concerns over flooding in the Tulare Lake Basin were addressed. Currently, the response to the flooding is developing, but Cal Fire officials said that they are working to keep the flooding at bay. Not only that, but they are also monitoring the surrounding communities in case the need to evacuate grew due to the basin.
Since the basin is facing potential flooding, which will worsen as the snowpack melts in coming months, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order on March 31. The order is to support the ongoing emergency response to flooding for the months ahead. The order will streamline regulations in order to expedite preparation and recovery efforts. The order suspends certain statutes and regulations to expedite emergency flood preparation and response activities such as flood water diversion, debris removal and levee repairs in the Tulare Lake Basin.
This order will also boost staffing for emergency response efforts. To ensure adequate staffing for response efforts, the order waives work hour limitations for retired annuitants working with state agencies and departments on the emergency response.
Additionally, the order enables a school in Alpine County that has been closed due to storm impacts to relocate to temporary facilities to continue classes. The order also suspends academic assessments for three schools in Pajaro Valley Unified School District, if a federal waiver is approved.
State agencies and departments, including CAL FIRE, the California Department of Water Resources and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, have been managing the flood response efforts, providing technical assistance, resources and support with a focus on protecting public health and safety.
“With historic rain and snowpack creating immense challenges for this region, our first priority is protecting lives and livelihoods impacted by this devastating flooding,” Newsom said.
Concerns over possible water contamination also loom overhead, as Tulare Lake Compost (TLC) operates in the areas where the once-phantom lake resides. TLC is a 175-acre composting facility located near Kettleman City, which provides fertilizer and enriched soil to many growers in the Central Valley. TLC is owned and operated by the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, and part of their process is converting human waste from Los Angeles into fertilizer, and it comes in tons. Because of this, the flooding of the area could carry the bacteria of solid waste into the lake and other flooded areas.
Not only is help coming from the state, but many officials are reaching out to the federal level as well. On March 28, Gov. Gavin Newsom, along with members of Congress and the state assembly, urged President Joe Biden to issue a major disaster declaration for the State of California.
“We’ve submitted for a disaster declaration from the President and federal partners and hoping to get some financial assistance to the businesses and our residents that have been impacted, as well as our agriculture and farmers that have been impacted, because we have had millions and millions of dollars of through estimated damage to our local to people’s homes,” Montero said.