Monthly town meeting tackles fire, water


There are no more significant issues than water and fire, and these subjects are destined to affect visitors and residents alike in Kaweah Country this summer. July and August are typically the busiest months of the year so whether there is enough water or a catastrophic fire can determine the season’s outcome dramatically.

Lake Kaweah— At last Monday’s Town Hall meeting (June 1), Phil Deffenbaugh, Lake Kaweah’s general manager, led off the agenda with an update of the current storage and the forecast for the lake level and where Lake Kaweah’s water is headed.

Phil said that previously the worst year since Lake Kaweah began storing water (1964) was in 1977 when the basin received 22 percent of what normally is projected to come from snowmelt in the Kaweah drainage. 

“In the year 2015, we now have new worst year,” Phil said. “This year’s snowpack will deliver only about 10 percent of what we might typically experience.”

For comparison, Phil cited some recent years for context to understanding the June 1, 2015, storage of 71, 884 acre feet. On June 1, 2014, there was 83,000 acre feet; two years ago (2013) there was 96,000 acre feet; and on June 1, 2012, the last big water year, there was 177, 258 acre feet and the basin filled to 97 percent capacity.

Phil also said that larger releases were beginning this week and that the current inflow for the first week of June, thanks to some recent rain and snow, is actually the same as it was in 2014. 

“We expect our deliveries [to downstream users] to be about the same too,” Phil said. “The size of the pool for recreation is relative because the surface acreage is about the same even when the lake is 38 percent (2015) or when it is 60 or 70 percent.”

Because other nearby lakes have even less water, Phil said boaters and swimmers will to flock to Lake Kaweah this summer, and they expect to have the same recurring problems.

“This past weekend [May 30-31], Slick Rock was a crazy place,” Phil said. “There were two near drownings where both victims asphyxiated water.”

Alcohol played a role in both incidents so Phil said, as usual, his staff expects to be calling frequently for the assistance of Sheriff’s deputies. Mark Frick, Three Rivers resident deputy, said his department is already planning to put a stop to the excessive drinking at Lake Kaweah.

Deputy Frick also said that at times this past weekend there were as many as 150 people competing for spots at Slicky in Three Rivers. River access is the issue at this location and several other river sites in town, and tempers flare when locals challenge out-of-town users as to their right to use (and sometimes trash) a local swimming hole. 

“We are planning to calm things down at Slick Rock and Slicky before there is any serious trouble,” Deputy Frick said. “We’re going to tape off all the nearby parking and step up our patrols.”

 Agricultural water— Supervisor Allen Ishida spoke next about the big water picture as it relates to water rationing and farming in the valley. He said that commodity prices remain high and that there is so much money to be made in agriculture that Tulare County is attracting outside investors who are willing to plant new trees —almonds and citrus — with drip systems for watering. Ishida also explained that most mature orchards, especially walnuts, cannot be converted to drip. 

“Most folks up here on individual wells won’t be asked to ration water but if you are part of an association with six or more users you will be subject to state regulations,” Ishida said.

Park plans prescribed fire— Mike Theune, fire education specialist for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, reported that the annual Ash Mountain prescribed burns will be completed in a few days. 

Next on Sequoia’s prescribed fire agenda is a 75-acre burn in the Sunset Rock area of Giant Forest. That burn is weather and air quality dependent.

Theune said the vegetation at 6,000 feet still contains a high moisture content so when and if Ash Mountain firefighters are given the green light, the Sunset Rock burn won’t be in volatile conditions like the parched foothills. He also said that in areas that have been subject to controlled burns in the past there is less tree mortality.

Supervisor Ishida said that California forests could lose 70 percent of all its pine trees in the next two years. The only operating lumber mill still left in the region is at Terra Bella so logging the dead trees in Tulare County is not feasible.

Upcoming meeting— A special town meeting, sponsored by the Three Rivers Village Foundation, is in the works for August 3. The topic for that meeting is water and an update on local conditions. 

For information, call Tom Sparks 799-4325.      

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