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California Governor Newsom to propose new funding for flood prevention, recovery

The proposal would add an additional $290 million to the state budget for future flooding and recovery after widespread flooding in the state's Central Valley earlier this year.

(CN) — California Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday will propose adding $290 million to the state budget for flood control in the Tulare Basin, a region in the state's Central Valley that was ravaged by storms earlier this year, according to a news release on Thursday.

The money Newsom proposed will be allocated to five different projects, including projects to aid with storm recovery and floodplain restoration as well as money to expand the California Small Agricultural Business Drought Relief Grant Program.

“California is facing unprecedented weather whiplash," the Democratic governor said in a statement accompanying the announcement. "We just experienced the driest three years on record, and now we’re dealing with historic flooding."

"Our investments must match this reality of climate-driven extremes," he added. "We’re committing even more resources to support communities up and down the state as they continue responding to the impacts of this year’s storms."

During historic winter storms in the first few months of 2023, the Central Valley’s Tulare Basin was inundated with rain — breaching levees and flooding homes and businesses in one of the country’s most productive and important stretches of agricultural land.

The rainfall was so significant that it caused the resurgence of Tulare Lake. With nowhere for the water to go, experts say the lake could stick around for a couple of years if it isn’t pumped.

Once one of the largest freshwater lakes in the United States, Tulare was originally drained in the 19th century. Newsom has also proposed legislation to cement into state law previous executive orders mandating that flood water — including water from the newly reborn Tulare Lake — be used to recharge aquifers. 

The plan would ratchet the state’s flood control measures up to $492 million, following a prior $202 million proposal by Newsom in January. That money was also largely earmarked for the Central Valley, including for projects to protect urban areas from flooding and restore levees in the Sacramento-San Joaquin river delta.

Also on Thursday, Newsom announced that the state plans to once again raise the Corcoran Levee, a 14.5-mile-long dirt levee that protects the town of Corcoran in the Tulare Basin from being flooded. The city of around 25,000 contains "large correctional and medical facilities," the news release stated, including a state prison.

In addition to heavy rains earlier this year, the state is also worried about the impacts that spring and summer heat will have on historic snowpack in the Sierra Nevadas. If significant amounts of the snowpack melt, it could further inundate the Central Valley, which sits below the iconic range.

To that end, the state is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prioritize snowmelt forecasting and flood assessments and to "share the latest advance planning tools," according to the news release.

Meanwhile, the California Department of Water Resources is also helping "local agencies in the basin prepare for flooding," the news release states. Among those efforts is a $5 million program to "provide temporary pumps to local water districts."

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