Thứ Sáu, Tháng Sáu 2, 2023
HomeNewsFloodwaters threaten to engulf a California city and prison

Floodwaters threaten to engulf a California city and prison

Just west of this dusty ordinary prison town, a people’s nightmare is unfolding: Lake Tulare, a body of water that didn’t exist just two months ago, now stretches to the horizon – a sea vast, murky where the tops of the telephone poles can be seen eerie stretching into the distance.

The anxious residents of this Central Valley city of 22,000 people know all too well that the only thing between This growing lake from flooding their homes and businesses — as well as one of the state’s largest and busiest prison complexes — is a 14.5-mile earthen levee that rises from the wet ground to the west. west, south and east.

And that levee, according to city officials and local farmers, could be in big trouble.

Map of Tulare Lakebed and Corcoran, with protective dike.

(Paul Duginski/Los Angeles Times)

They worry that this uncharacteristic earthwork might be too low to hold millions of gallons of melted snow is expected to flow into the Lake Tulare basin as summer sunshine warms the slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains. They were even more worried that with water flooding the dyke within two years, it could start to erode and break.

Many people here say they’re confused and scared that state and federal officials don’t seem to take this threat seriously, as the federal government has estimated that flooding will cause 6 million dollars worth of damage. billion dollars. They note that both the California State Prison, Corcoran, and the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility — a dual prison complex housing about 8,000 men incarcerated and employing many local residents — stand in front danger of destruction.

An audience member is watching a man speak into a microphone and point

Community members attend a meeting of the Island Property Defense Association, which provides resources to respond to floods and other natural disasters.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

“Nobody has ever seen so much snow,” said Jason Mustin, a salesman at hardware store Corcoran and a former firefighter. “Of course I’m nervous.”

Mustin is not alone.

Recently, a bottle of Tums antacid rattled in the cup holder on Kirk Gilkey’s truck as he drove around the area surveying rising water levels.

The Gilkey family has been farming in the area for generations. This is the first year in decades his farm has not grown cotton because of the floods, he said. But what hurts him the most is not the financial pain that big farmers will have to go through but Difficulties will come to workers and their families people who depend on agriculture for their livelihood.

“People are scared,” he said. If “Corcoran floods, then it will be a ghost town. It will not survive.”

City Manager Greg Gatzka, who for weeks has waged an unsuccessful campaign to raise federal and state funds to strengthen the levee, said he was “so frustrated” by the difficulty in accessing the resources. emergency aid.

According to Gatzka, local officials want to see the levee reinforced and raised by 3.5 feet — an engineering feat that cost $21 million.

In the meantime, the Cross Creek Flood Control District, the agency responsible for the levee, has used reserve funds to begin collecting soil to reinforce it. But Gatzka said the agency had run out of resources and needed state help.

A man in a baseball cap places his hand on his forehead.

Kings County Supervisor Doug Verboon weighs the questions during a meeting of the Island Property Defense Association.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

As a “desperate last resort,” Gatzka said, the agency can also ask local farmers — including cotton giant JG Boswell Co. based in Pasadena — donate to support the work.

Officials at Boswell and the Cross Creek Flood Control District did not respond to requests for comment.

“My biggest fear,” says Gatzka, is that the levee will “be damaged by erosion or deterioration, and then the water will flood into the city, and we will have to consider an evacuation.”

He said the city has heard that state and federal officials are “working” to support the levee, “but it needs to come faster.”

For their part, officials at several state and federal agencies said they were monitoring the situation closely but turned the questions — and responsibility — back to local officials.

Army Engineers, who helped build dikes around Corcoran in 1969 and 1983, said Lake Tulare and the Corcoran dike system did not “fall into [Army Corps] authorization.”

    Machines that move the earth work hard on top of an earth levee.

Earth moving machines repair damaged levees along the Tule River near California State Prison, Corcoran.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Officials from the state’s Department of Water Resources said their Flood Operations Center has deployed technical experts to inspect the dyke and is “conducting modeling and mapping to develop new technologies.” local decision-making tool.”

Congressman Devon Mathis (R-Visalia) said in a statement that the city is “working with private organizations to secure funding for levee repairs.” He added that his office is trying to secure additional funding.

State Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) said her office was in “regular contact” with state and local officials and farmers to “ensure strategic action was taken.” She added, “We are continuing to monitor this situation and will continue to work to facilitate dialogue among our state, local, and federal partners to ensure community Corcoran is safe from possible flood impacts.”

But as the days get longer and warmer, people in Corcoran and elsewhere in the region are increasingly worried that there aren’t enough measures to prevent catastrophic flooding.

Corcoran dike diagram and reinforcement proposal

(Paul Duginski/Los Angeles Times)

City officials, plea after plea, made the math of their problem clear.

Parts of Corcoran are 174 feet above sea level. Concentrated water west of town has reached 178 feet – and could rise higher.

The current height of the dyke is 188 feet.

Gatzka said the earthworks must be sturdy enough to retain 1 million acres of water.

But what if more water than that flows down from the mountains? Snow cover in the southern Sierra is estimated to be 300% above normal. And upstream farmers aren’t calling for as much water as they would in drier years. Furthermore, the ground beneath Corcoran has subsided, the result of too much water pumping from aquifers causing the earth to compress – a phenomenon known as subsidence.

    Teams repair a damaged drainage channel.

Crews repair damaged drainage canals near Corcoran’s prison complex.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Adding to the uncertainty are questions about the integrity of the dyke itself. Local officials worry that it won’t be able to withstand the pressure of water hitting it within two years, which is the length of time Lake Tulare could recede. (A thick layer of clay underlies the Lake Tulare region, preventing floodwaters from seeping into aquifers.)

The threat of flooding is one the region has faced for decades. Corcoran sits on the edge of what was once a huge lake – that is, until farms diverted water from the Kings, Kaweah, Tule and Kern rivers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Corcoran was founded in 1914. Like many towns in the San Joaquin Valley, its founder was a real estate developer with dreams of making it rich. But many here consider JG Boswell the true founder of the city. His eponymous company, one of the largest agricultural companies in California, was founded in Corcoran in 1921 and remains the town’s most influential company.

The town’s Latino majority – along with smaller villages scattered around the Lake Tulare Basin, such as Allensworth, Alpaugh and Stratford – has been threatened with flooding every time there is a huge snow cover in the Sierra. .

In 1969 — a year so wet that two ranchers and their son embarked on a boat trip across Lake Tulare as far as San Francisco — Army Corps of Engineers teamed up with local officials to build levees to protect Corcoran. By April, the lake had reached 188 feet above sea level and was rising about 1 foot per week. The dikes built that year were 192 feet high.

Some of those dikes were removed when the water receded.

In 1983, another series of hurricanes made landfall in the area. The Corps again came to the town’s rescue, building the existing levee around Corcoran but making the promise that the Cross Creek Flood Control district would be responsible for maintaining it.

A sweeping view of a broken levee and a flooded orchard.

Heavy machinery worked hard on top of the breached dike.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

In 2015, the levee was raised after officials became concerned about increasing subsidence. Two years later, after a particularly wet winter, officials discovered that it had sunk 2 feet. About $14 million in Corcoranian taxpayer dollars was spent to raise funds again.

Complicating matters is a bit of extra infrastructure in Corcoran: a large prison complex run by the state of California.

View of California State Prison, Corcoran from 4th Ave.

View of California State Prison, Corcoran, from 4th Avenue.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

The California Department of Corrections opened Corcoran Prison in 1988. Hailed by local leaders as a potential economic interest, it was built at the southern end of town. A decade later, the state opened the adjacent Substance Abuse Treatment Facility. Together, the two organizations employ about 8,000 people on properties adjacent to the dike.

In Facebook groups for inmates’ families, women with loved ones in prison said fear about the integrity of the levee made them nervous.

Meanwhile, around town, there are rumors that the prison is secretly evacuating prisoners before the flood. A spokesman for the Bureau of Corrections said via email that there was no immediate danger and no inmates were evacuated. However, she added, the facility has stopped accepting new inmates because of the situation.

Lake Tulare continues to rise along its northern border.

Lake Tulare continues to rise along its northern border.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

The possibility of disaster, however, has benefited at least one business in town: Lake Bottom Brewery & Distillery on Whitley Avenue, the town’s main street. The wood-paneled watering hole has welcomed a large number of tourists and journalists from around the country.

Everyone wants to talk about the same thing, said General Manager Jose Hinojosa: “They all want to know if we’re really going to flood the whole town.”

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