It may seem like a distant worry amid severe drought, but according to a report issued last week, Kings County would be seriously affected by a serious flood that happens about every 100 years.

The 25-page report, issued by the insurance company Lloyd's, found that more than 30 percent of Kings County's approximately 2.2 million acres of land would be submerged in a once-in-100-year flood event.

The calculation assumes high flows on the Kings River that, on average, would be expected to happen one percent of the time.

High flows have occurred in big snowmelt years such as 1969 and 1983.

According to the report, the affected acreage slightly increases in simulations of 200-year floods and 500-year floods.

Kings is ranked second in a top-five flood-risk list that includes the counties of Sutter, Yolo, San Joaquin and Sacramento counties.

The finding was part of a broader analysis of the 19-county Central Valley region that concluded that a 100-year flood could cause $24.1 billion in damage Valleywide.

The report noted that Kings, because it is primarily rural, lacks the densely populated areas that would be affected in San Joaquin and Sacramento counties.

The report suggested that climate change factors would increase the risk of a 1-in-100-year flood and would require stepped-up safeguards to mitigate the risk. 

Broadly speaking, there are two flood insurance scenarios for Kings County homeowners.

The first applies if you live in a 100-year floodplain as defined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If you live at or below the base elevation contour established for such an event, you are required to get flood insurance if you have a mortgage and if you have homeowner's insurance.

The flood insurance is typically tacked on by the lender as a condition of the loan.

FEMA recently expanded its flood map to include an additional 700 Kings County properties in the 100-year floodplain, according to Darren Verdegaal, Kings County building inspector.

Verdegaal said the properties are concentrated northwest of Lemoore.

Any new construction in the floodplain has to be built with a foundation raised at least to the level of the baseline flood elevation contour. The property owner would still be required to get flood insurance.

For homeowners outside the 100-year floodplain, flood insurance is optional. Most choose not to get it.

It's easy to understand why.

Flood insurance may double a homeowner's insurance costs, according to Mark Raeber, a real estate broker with A-One Premier Properties in Hanford.

Which doesn't mean people aren't thinking about it.

Raeber said he's had discussions with clients about the possibility of a big El Nino water year next winter.

Some meteorologists have been predicting higher-than-normal precipitation, but the majority of forecasters have cautioned that it's too soon to tell whether the 2015-2016 rainfall season will give California a reprieve from drought.

"Let's wait and see what happens here," Raeber said.

The biggest impact of a major flood in Kings County would be to its agricultural output.

The Lloyd's report includes a diagram of a 200-year flood putting much of southeastern Kings County under water, including a vast portion of the old Tulare Lake bed.

Farmers in the former Tulare Lake bottom -- most notably, J.G. Boswell Co. -- have developed strategies to contain the water within a system of levees and massive catchment basins.

In the case of major flood-related crop losses, the  U.S. Department of Agriculture would likely provide some kind of disaster assistance to growers, according to Steve Schweizer, deputy Kings County agricultural commissioner.

Growers may also have access to private crop insurance to cover their losses.

The reporter can be reached at snidever@hanfordsentinel.com or 583-2432. Follow him on Twitter @snidever.

Recommended for you

Load comments