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Evacuations ordered as Porterville lake fills beyond capacity, water is released

Schafer Dam.jfif
Rick Brown
US Army Corps of Engineers
Schafer Dam at Success Lake near Porterville, California. USACE Sacramento District has broken ground on the Tule River Spillway Enlargement Project here, designed to help improve flood protection for the region and increase the reservoir's water storage capabilities.

UPDATE: The Tulare County Sheriff's Office issued an evacuation order at 6 p.m. Wednesday for an area west of Porterville over rising flood waters. The evacuation is from Olive Avenue, also known as Avenue 152, south to Avenue 144 and from Westwood Avenue west to the Friant-Kern Canal.

Read the transcript for the original report below.

ELIZABETH ARAKELIAN, HOST: Late Tuesday night, the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office ordered around 100 residences downstream of Schafer Dam to evacuate. As KVPR’s Kerry Klein reports, flood releases that are threatening homes are making room for more rainfall. 

KERRY KLEIN: In the span of less than a week, water storage in Lake Success more than doubled. As of Wednesday morning it was 15% over capacity, which triggered flood releases from Schafer Dam from both the spillway and a large pipe known as outlet works. The dam is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and spokesperson Tyler Stalker says flow rates likely peaked on Wednesday morning.

TYLER STALKER: that should start to slow down over the coming days with reduced spillway flow and then ideally we’ll be able to reduce the outlet works as well.

KLEIN: But those releases won’t stop just yet. The agency needs to make room for more rain next week.

STALKER: The big variable will be what comes next, and how quickly it comes, and will we have an opportunity to really get the reservoir back down to below capacity.

KLEIN: Stalker also says an ongoing construction project to increase reservoir capacity at Lake Success has not interfered with the structural integrity of the dam. Earlier in the week, the sheriff’s office reminded residents: the dam is operating as expected, and don’t panic.

For KVPR News, I'm Kerry Klein.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.