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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

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California braces for trouble as record winter snow begins to melt

California is finally feeling like spring, always the half-full season. This weekend’s Earth Day celebrations saw 80-degree heat in parts of the state. After three years of the driest on record, the storms that battered the state over the winter have effectively wiped out the drought, allowing reservoirs to fill. As my flower-loving colleague Jill Cowan recently reported, wildflower “super blooms” are spreading.

On the half-empty side, however, a difficult reckoning looms. Economic damage from the storm is expected to run into the billions of dollars, and that doesn’t include the massive number of potholes on the state’s streets, roads and highways.

Now, as the skies warm on top of a near-record snowpack, a massive wall of snow has begun to lose its way from the Sierra Nevada. “The Great Melt is now officially here,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. Tweeted late last week.

What’s the big deal about Big Lava?

Yes, it’s getting bigger by the minute in the sun-drenched Central Valley.

Tulare Lake, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River, had begun refilling its riverbed in Kings County before being drained, flooding large tracts of prime agricultural land and displacing its primary dairy. According to Swain, by Only about 5 percent of the snowpack has melted so far. (The tireless Swain has been an invaluable resource for educating the public about these complex climate disasters. Check out his live briefing on the Great Lava Monday at 9 a.m. PT.)

What is Melt doing?

Municipalities and private landowners have struggled to keep the water in a network of dams. But even so, local authorities say that since then, when Soumya Karlamangla and I wrote about it a few weeks ago, Lake Tulare is larger than Manhattan, and has more than tripled in size since then.

Kings County Assistant Sheriff Robert Thayer, who has been monitoring flood conditions, estimated Friday that the lake was 100 to 140 square miles in size and had an average water depth of about 3.5 feet. Think Manhattan, Brooklyn, and most of the Bronx, waist-deep.

The state water department convened dozens of local agencies for a strategy meeting in Tulare on Friday. Governor Gavin Newsom is expected to travel there this week.

Can all water be managed?

State officials say they and local officials will have to make some tough choices as snowmelt begins to flow down the four rivers that nourish the Tulare Lake bed. The state’s water director, Karla Nemeth, told me last month that each of the planning scenarios includes “significant amounts of land permanently underwater,” with some involving the prospect of runoff so violent that evacuations may be required. The lake has no natural means of drainage and could last a year or more, she said.

Overpumping of groundwater during droughts has altered the topography of watersheds, making it more difficult to control and predict flows.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in its forecast last week that much of California could experience normal or below-normal weather conditions in the first half of summer, so the snow may not melt too suddenly. However, if an ongoing heat wave or warm torrential rain happens to hit the southern Sierra, the accelerated runoff could wreak havoc, Swain said.

what’s the risk?

The lake has eroded aging levees in Cochrane, a city with two state prisons and a population of about 22,000. Hundreds of oil and gas drilling operations are conducted on the lake bed. Fields once treated with fertilizers and other chemicals are now underwater, posing a potential hazardous waste problem. Transmission lines and rail rights-of-way traverse the watershed, including some initial high-speed rail construction. Crops including pistachios, Pima cotton and tomatoes are at risk on a large scale.

All of these loopholes add up to a formidable jurisdictional challenge as dozens of federal, state, county, municipal and private agencies, including JG Boswell Co., one of the largest agricultural landowners in the United States, race to determine who The land will be flooded who will be spared.

“The reality is, there’s just too much water to dig or build our way out,” Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the California governor’s office of emergency services, told me last week while driving from Sacramento to Tulare. “But we have a moment now where the sun is shining and the snow is still on the mountains. The question is: how do we now plan for when the water comes?”

Today’s tip comes from Kate Johnson, who recommends Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, Sonoma Valley: “It’s a beautiful park with a lot to explore: miles of hiking trails , the historic building, and about the writer and his wife living there.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We will share more information in an upcoming newsletter.

After a rainy winter, spring has arrived in California. Tell us about your favorite season, whether it’s a road trip, festival, sunny afternoon or wildflower viewing.

Please email CAToday@nytimes.com with your name and city of residence.

René Hurtado and Maxwell P. Bochman first met in the summer of 2014, when Hurtado was selling Ghirardelli chocolate chip cookies from the stands at the Stockton Ports Ballpark. Bochmann was working in stadium operations at the time.

“I remember when I first saw her work there — I was talking to one of my co-workers and I said, ‘I need to meet her,’” Bohmann, 32, told The New York Times.

Fast forward to 2023. Hurtado and Bochman chose to marry at a Taylor Swift concert.

During a costume change at Swift’s performance in Arizona on March 18, a friend of the couple, named for the occasion by the U.S. Department of Marriage, began reading vows from her phone as the couple exchanged rings and a kiss. The whole ceremony lasted about three minutes.

“At first, the fans around us didn’t know what was going on, but after our first kiss, everyone burst into cheers,” Hurtado said. “They really created that moment for us with their support.”

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