The Kings River is flowing again in Kings County, and it might be the most water since 2011, according to officials.

The main channel at the Highway 43 bridge, which Kings River Water Association official Steve Haugen referred to as "Dutch John Cut," was full bank-to-bank Tuesday morning with a fast-moving, muddy-brown flow.

A smaller channel that goes under Highway 43 just to the north was also full.

Strangely enough, none of the water was from Pine Flat Reservoir behind Pine Flat Dam.

All of it was local runoff from small creeks that feed into the Kings River downstream from the dam.

Some of those creeks have in recent days looked more like rivers than the small, intermittent streams they usually are.

That illustrates the high amount of rainfall that foothill areas east and northeast of Kings County have received during the last 10 days.

According to Haugen, however, Pine Flat Reservoir is a long way from being full enough for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to even consider flood releases from the dam.

Haugen said Monday that the reservoir was holding approximately 400,000 acre-feet of water – up about 100,000 acre-feet from a week ago.

Haugen said that the Corps, which operates the dam but works with the Kings River Water Association, wouldn't start thinking about flood releases until the reservoir level hits 650,000 acre-feet.

The reservoir can hold 1 million acre-feet.

"We knew even with this [heavy] rain forecast, we could handle it," Haugen said.

Haugen said the Corps would start considering releases at that point to ensure that sufficient capacity is available behind the dam to receive snowmelt runoff later in the year.

Down-river from the dam, Kings County farmers were celebrating the flowing water.

Grower Jim Verboon, standing on the riverbank near the intersection of 17th and Excelsior avenues, said it's the first time in a long time he's seen water in the channel.

He said the water will radiate into the Kings River's many channels, diversion ditches and canals and help recharge aquifers that have dropped significantly during the drought.

"These flows are very welcome," he said. "We're happy to see the water."

Verboon said he's glad to see the level of Pine Flat Reservoir rise in recent days.

"I think at some point we're going to see flood releases [later this year]," he said. "Pine Flat is a shock absorber for these big [rain] events. As long as there's spare room in there, we should be in good shape."

"It's been so long since we've seen a rain event like this," he said.

Kings County Farm Bureau Executive Director Dustin Ference isn't declaring an end to the drought just yet, but he's pleased to see soggy fields and a flowing Kings River.

"The rain is great," he said. "To see water in the river the way we are, it's definitely a benefit."

Ference said that even if this water season continues with above-average precipitation through April, it probably won't be enough to declare the drought over.

"It's going to take several years of above-average snowpack and rainfall," he said. "It's taken years to get the aquifer down to where it is."

Ference said he'd like to see Pine Flat fill up this year.

He said some people are comparing the last several days of heavy rain and snow to 1997, a big El Nino year that broke precipitation records in many parts of the state.

El Nino refers to warmer sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. It is sometimes associated with above-normal precipitation in Central California.

This winter, a weak La Nina, which means cooler Pacific Ocean surface temperatures, has been in place.

That typically means above-average chances of a drier-than-normal year in Central California.

So far, this winter is on track to beat the odds.

"It's not going to solve our problems overnight, but I think it's a step in the right direction," Ference said.

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

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