Many questions that have been asked and answered recently as to what caused flooding of the Kings River in Fresno, Kings and Tulare Counties. A recent article in the Fresno Bee and in an opinion published by the Editorial Board addressed some of those issues and concerns.
What we know as fact is that the Kings River overflowed its banks in several areas from the point of origin Pine Flat Dam into Tulare County. Higher than normal snow pack in the winter combined with extreme temperatures in June created a snow-pack run off which rapidly filled the Pine Flat Reservoir. The Army Corps of Engineers monitored the situation and using the Department of Water Resources (DWR) runoff forecasts tried to gauge a release date that would create the least impact along the River.
However, the DWR proved to be hundreds of thousand acre feet too low in their original projections and the high fast moving water caused flooding all along the river, which just could not handle the additional water flow. Although runoff forecasts were adjusted up to more realistic projections it was too late to justify higher flood releases for a longer, earlier period.
I do give a lot of credit to Water master Steve Haugen and Dave Merritt Operations Manager of Kings River Conservation District (KRCD) for monitoring and advising the Corps regarding water releases with the information at hand. The Army Corps of Engineers are the final decision makers.
As we hear about cfs numbers, local demands, estimated channel losses, and ordered flood releases the one denominator that is missing in my opinion is the condition of the entire Kings River bed. The river and its channels need to be clean and free flowing.
Yes, clean and free flowing!
Excessive vegetation overgrowth, debris and buildup of dirt and sand have restricted the water flow on the river in many areas where flooding occurred. A perfect example of how water flow is restricted in the river comes from the Kings River Water Association’s (KRWA) June 22, 2017 report. The report shows that the status of flows below Pine Flat Dam were: 9,580 cfs flow at Reedley Narrows (approximately three miles upstream of the City of Reedley, Capacity per ACOE Reservoir Control Manual 13,000 cfs) and 8,320 cfs flow below Peoples Weir (approximately one mile downstream of Highway 99, Capacity per ACOE Reservoir Control Manual 11,000 cfs. The 3,000 cfs difference was due to a low water capacity carrying in this area caused by a buildup of debris, dirt and sand in the channel.
Who is responsible for keeping the waterways clear on the Kings? From the dam to where the river crosses, Eighth Avenue southwest of Kingsburg it is the Army Corps of Engineers from Highway 43 and beyond it is KRCD with the Army Corps of Engineers guidance. Depending upon weather conditions this summer and anticipated irrigation demand flood releases will continue to be adjusted accordingly with no additional flooding anticipated. I propose that the Fresno, Kings and Tulare Counties along with KRCD and KRWA work with the Army Corps of Engineers to coordinate an effort to rectify these conditions.
For future reference: The Army Corps of Engineers needs to continue to work with local water entities and the Department of Water Resources, snow level measurements after April 1st need to be more accurate, weather forecasts especially those where higher than normal temperatures are expected should be closely monitored.
Most importantly, unless the riverbeds are clear and water is able to freely flow I do not feel we are completely out of danger of future flooding events in the years to come.