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Toppled trees, displaced cattle herds: Tulare County ag dealing with deluge

An aerial photo captures a flooded field near the Tulare County City of Exeter.
County of Tulare
An aerial photo captures a flooded field near the Tulare County City of Exeter.

TULARE COUNTY, Calif. – In Tulare County, where signs reading “pray for rain” line the highway, many communities are underwater – and that includes agricultural fields. 

Flooded orchards, toppled trees, and displaced farmers and farmworkers. That’s what Tulare County Farm Bureau Executive Director Tricia Stever Blattler is observing across her county.

She said in the last three days as floods began to get out of control especially along the Tule River, the dairy community has scrambled.  

Dairy farmers have deployed trailers and trucks to people needing to move hundreds to thousands of cattle in a matter of a day, Stever Blattler said. Mounds of cattle feed are wet and moldy, and some producers have had to relocate entire herds of cattle. 

She also said the floods are killing trees. 

“I drove by a very mature almond orchard a couple nights ago and every third and fourth tree [is] down, and those are 15-year-old healthy almond trees that should have production for many years ahead,” Stever Blattler said. 

Months ago, the Tulare County region was the epicenter of the California drought. Now, too much water is forcing farmers to think about new damages. 

Earlier this week, a farmer even used two of his own pickup trucks to plug a breached levee. 

Stever Blattler said farmers are lending their bulldozers and excavators to first responders clearing roads and moving debris.

“We're begging and begging and begging for water. But sadly when the good Lord delivered it, he brought it all in way too way too quickly,” she said. 

The Tulare County Sheriff’s Office issued three different evacuations in Porterville, but some homes were already under water. Small communities like Alpaugh and Allensworth in the western part of the county were also under flood threats.

Breaches further upstream, along a branch of the Tule River also caused road closures on Friday just south of Tulare. City officials were not expecting flooding to cross city limits, but water was getting into industrial facilities. 

Flooding has hit several other communities since March 10 as renewed atmospheric rivers hit the region.

There’s still more worry rain and snow coupled with water releases from the nearby reservoirs – currently at capacity – will send even more water rushing down.

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.