Tule River Indian Reservation recovering after storms disrupt infrastructure
PORTERVILLE, Calif. – When snowmelt runoff rushed down from the Sierra Nevada in early March, it washed away the only entrance to the Tule River Indian Reservation. Tribal leaders said it stranded residents.
The reservation is located in the foothills of the Sequoia National Forest near Porterville. The community has roughly 1,500 residents, and leaders at the reservation said the flood damage left residents without regular access to food, water and electricity for more than two weeks.
After a week and a half from the flooding, residents began receiving donations and care packages from outside the reservation. But according to Neil Peyron, the chairman of the Tule River Tribal Council, transporting those packages was a slow process because of the harsh conditions of the roads.
“The roads were flooded in a lot of areas, and a lot of areas were under threat,” Peyron said. “The road might have looked fine, but there was nothing underneath supporting it.”
Flood waters in the south fork of the Tule River rose as high as 18 feet. It ripped up domestic water and sewer lines, telephone poles and bridges across the reservation.
Some portions of the reservation, like the uppermost areas near Rocky Creek, were completely isolated, according to Peyron.
“There was no way off the reservation at all,” Peyron said “There were people without food. There were some people without water.”
The Eagle Mountain Casino, which is owned and operated by the Tule River Tribe, was able to provide some food and water.
Peyron said the wider community also worked together to pool resources.
“There was that period of time where we didn’t have access to food,” Peryon said. “Living up here all my life, it’s nature to keep two or three weeks [worth] of food in your pantry just in case.”
While local, state and federal emergency service agencies were able to make some repairs, the community still has a long way to recover.
“Now it's just putting the pieces back together as best as possible,” Peyron said. “I know we learned that we weren't ready for this magnitude of a flood.”
Established in 1873, the reservation is home to a range of Indigenous peoples, including the Tachi-Yokuts, Mono, Navajo and Chumash tribes.
This story is part of the Central Valley News Collaborative, which is supported by the Central Valley Community Foundation with technology and training support by Microsoft Corp.