HANFORD – People nervously watching the river rise in Kingsburg and northeastern Kings County over the last few days may be able to start breathing sighs of relief: It appears that snowmelt runoff may have peaked this week.

That's according to Randy McFarland, a spokesman for the Kings River Water Association, the organization that monitors the river for irrigation purposes.

McFarland said Wednesday that inflows into Pine Flat Lake, the man-made reservoir created by Pine Flat Dam, had started to inch downward after cresting above 20,000 cubic feet per second on Tuesday.

For perspective, that's the equivalent of roughly 150,000 gallons flowing by every second, or 1 million gallons going by every 6.6 seconds.

The slight decrease in the flow rate on Wednesday is a sign that the majority of the snow has probably melted and that the river will continue to taper down slowly in the coming days.

"This is good news, because we're running out of room in Pine Flat [Lake]," McFarland said.

As of midnight Tuesday, Pine Flat Lake was at 96.3 percent capacity.

To keep the lake from filling too fast, dam operators were doing a controlled release through tunnels and over the spillway of approximately 13,500 cubic feet per second Wednesday.

About 4,750 cubic feet per second of that is considered flood releases and is being shunted northward into the San Joaquin River channel, where it can flow out to sea.

The remaining 8,750 cubic feet per second is being taken for irrigation uses, according to McFarland.

The flows are high enough to cause some flooding issues in low-lying areas, including downstream from the Highway 99 bridge and in Kingsburg.

McFarland said he expects dam operators will be able to keep outflows from rising any further.

He expects the lake to fill at some point and then slowly be drawn down over the summer, meaning there will be flows through Kings County for weeks to come.

However, until further notice, the river downstream from the dam remains closed to all forms of recreation in or on the water.

"People have got to stay out of the river," McFarland said.

The reporter can be reached at snidever@hanfordsentinel.com or 583-2432. 

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