View of Kings River flowing

INCREASINGLY SERIOUS HIGH WATER prospects in what is shaping up to possibly be a record Kings River runoff season have led the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Sacramento District to announce plans to begin a rare flood release into old Tulare Lakebed. The USACE decision Saturday will mean that flood release flows from Pine Flat Dam will be increased starting at 5 a.m. Monday.

Releases growing to 1,500 cubic feet per second (c.f.s.) at Army Weir north of Lemoore into the lower Kings River’s Clark’s Fork-South Fork system will begin taking the flood flows to the former lakebed in Kings County. Those South Fork flows are expected to begin in Kings County Tuesday morning and reach 1,500 c.f.s. by Thursday afternoon. They are anticipated to continue indefinitely, USACE officials said, possibly lasting until sometime in the summer.

The Kings River Water Association (KRWA) and its 28 member water agencies, along with the Kings River Conservation District (KRCD), will shepherd the flows destined for Tulare Lake through the river’s channels and control structures.

KRCD is in charge of all Kings River channel flood operations and maintenance from the State Highway 43 bridge, north of Hanford, to just below Highway 41 near Stratford on the South Fork and McMullin Grade (Highway 145) on the James Bypass-North Fork channel, KRCD General Manager David Merritt said, adding, “We have performed a lot of maintenance on the levees and channels since the high flows of 2017, and will monitor operations closely. ”

USACE Sacramento District officials said the flood release toward the Tulare Lakebed would begin at 500 c.f.s. and be increased by 500 c.f.s. each day until reaching a target flow of 1,500 c.f.s. The North Fork system will also reach its capacity, with target flood release flows of 4,750 c.f.s. at Crescent Weir, south of Riverdale in the next several days.

“River flows downstream from the dam are going to be climbing and will continue to be increased,” said Kings River Watermaster Steve Haugen, who manages the KRWA. “This could last into the summer.”

Haugen said USACE will constantly evaluate conditions and make flood releases changes as needed. He said total releases from Pine Flat Dam, which all of this morning were steady at more than 6,300 c.f.s., will be increased over the next few days to a range of 8,500-9,000 c.f.s., most of which will be flood release water. Some water will continue to be released for KRWA member units to supply groundwater recharge basins in parts of the one-million-acre Kings River service area.

In addition, flows in Mill Creek—an unregulated foothill stream that enters the Kings downstream from Pine Flat Dam—are still several hundred cubic feet per second and expected to increase sharply with another Pacific storm due Monday through Wednesday. Releases from the dam will be reduced to accommodate Mill Creek flows. The Tulare Lakebed, has been receiving flows for several weeks from the Kaweah and Tule rivers, and Deer Creek and several smaller creeks, further south.

High Kings River flows have been common since early January when the current series of storm events began bringing much-above average amounts of snow and rain to the Sierra Nevada, and repeated heavy rainfall across the valley floor, after Christmas. Many of these storms have been fueled by tropically spawned atmospheric rivers, coupled with effects of very cold low-pressure systems from the Gulf of Alaska.

Huge snowfall amounts within the Kings River watershed have created the inevitability of much-above-normal snowmelt runoff during the spring and summer months. With Pine Flat Reservoir’s storage now rising to more than 77% of its one million acre-foot capacity, USACE’s action in increasing flood releases is aimed at creating room in the reservoir for any very high inflows resulting from additional rain or melting snow in order to minimize high water danger to properties and facilities along the river. Inflow to Pine Flat topped more than 40,000 c.f.s. during a recent storm but was mostly captured by the dam.

With flood releases being increased, Haugen said, Kings River water levels downstream will rise and continue to be dangerous. Localized flooding is likely. Everyone living or having property near the river of any stream needs to be on alert to these emergency conditions, he added.

KRWA predicts river flows from north of Reedley and through much of the Kingsburg area will climb by no later than Thursday to 7,500-8,000 c.f.s. There is currently approximately 6,000 c.f.s. of flow in that reach to just below Highway 99.

Downstream from Highway 43, the KRCD’s flood maintenance and management team is already employing patrols along all project levees, watching for potential complications in order to prevent more serious problems from occurring, through rapid response.

Both KRWA and KRCD continue to work closely with law enforcement and emergency services agencies in Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties.

Property owners or occupants along the river not only need to keep a watchful eye on the river and local conditions, it is vital that they also heed and obey warnings and orders from state, regional and local agencies.


For More Information, Please Contact:

STEVE HAUGEN, Kings River Water Association Watermaster, (559) 217-5249

DAVID MERRITT, Kings River Conservation District General Manager, (559) 237-5567
RICK BROWN, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Sacramento District Public Affairs, (916) 557-5102
RANDY McFARLAND, KRWA Public Information Consultant, (559) 260-2775