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Officials keep eye on Corcoran's levee as water fills Tulare Lake

Contributed video shows flooding outside of the City of Corcoran on March 20, 2023.

KINGS COUNTY, Calif. – Tulare Lake is filling for the first time since 1997.

Perched on its edge is the City of Corcoran. Although city officials issued an emergency proclamation on Saturday as floodwaters threatened the region, the city is safe for now.

The proclamation issued by the city's Emergency Services Director said Corcoran, other communities and surrounding agricultural land have come under increased risk of flooding.

Nearby areas have already been flooded, caused by breaches along the path of the fast-moving Tule River.

But the proclamation said the growing threat of even more flooding is coming from all sides: large amounts of snow accumulating in the Sierra Nevada are destined for watersheds of the Kings River, Kaweah River, Tule River, Cross Creek, Dry Creek and other local streams.

All of those rivers drain at the Tulare Lake bed in Kings County.

"The conditions constitute an extreme peril to the health, safety and welfare of persons in Corcoran, and such conditions are beyond the control of services, personnel, equipment, and facilities of this city," the proclamation said.

But in a media briefing on Wednesday, Corcoran’s Deputy Police Chief Gary Cramer said: Don’t panic.

“The city of Corcoran is protected by a levee that goes along the south edge of the city and along the west edge of the city,” he said.

For now, he reported, the levee remains intact and uncompromised. In fact, Kings County Sheriff David Robinson said the levee looms far above the lake bottom of 167 feet.

“The levee is at 188 feet around the city of Corcoran, so we’d have to see a lot of water to get to the top of that levee,” Robinson said.

Law enforcement are still monitoring it closely as runoff continues to flow down from the Sierra – and flood releases continue from dams upstream of the lake.

Most flooded areas in Kings County are farmland with few houses and businesses. The lakebed is home to a wide variety of crops, including cotton, pistachios, tomatoes, wheat, almonds and alfalfa.

Sheriff Robinson said the continuing water flows and lake growth will have wide reaching consequences.

“This will impact the world," Robinson said. " We're going to have a million acre-feet of water covering a region that feeds the world."

The biggest risk right now, officials say, is driving into flooded areas. Authorities advise drivers to stay alert and heed all road signs

Residents can find road closure maps and sign up for emergency alerts at the Kings County website.

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.