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Yosemite closes over flooding threat as huge snowpack melts

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Yosemite closes over flooding threat as huge snowpack melts

 

By AMY TAXIN and JAE C. HONG

April 25, 2023 GMT

LEMOORE, Calif. (AP) — Ron Caetano is packed and ready to go. His family photos and valuables are in the trailer and he’s put food in carry totes. He moved the rabbits and chickens and their automatic feeders to higher ground.

He and his family and dogs could get out in less than an hour, they figure, should more heavy rain or hot weather melt so much mountain snow that gushing water overwhelms the rivers and channel that surround their tight-knit, rural Central California community and give it its name, the Island District.

“The water is coming this way,” said Caetano, who started a Facebook group to help organize his neighbors. “I am preparing for the worst and praying for the best and that’s all we can do.”

After more than a dozen atmospheric rivers dumped epic rain and snowfall on California, a reservoir that stores water upstream is expected to receive three times its capacity in the coming months. Caetano and his neighbors in the tree-lined Island District, home to a school, pistachio orchards and horse ranches about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, could soon be marooned by rising rivers or flooded out.

Water managers are concerned that the spring snowmelt in the Sierra Nevada will be so massive that the north fork of the Kings River won’t be able to contain it and carry it toward the Pacific Ocean. Much of the water also is being channeled into the river’s south fork, which winds through the area near the small city of Lemoore to fill a vast basin.

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More than a century ago, that basin was an enormous body of freshwater known as Tulare Lake, the largest west of the Mississippi River. It would grow in winter as snowmelt streamed down from the mountains. But over time, settlers dammed and diverted waterways to irrigate crops, and the lake went dry. Now, Tulare Lake reappears only during the rainiest years, like this one, covering what is now a vast swath of farmland with water.

Today, paved roads vanish beneath the lake’s lapping waves and utility poles and trees jut out above the water, vestiges of land-living put on hold. Fields that typically grow wheat, tomatoes, and other crops lie underneath.

David Merritt, general manager for the Kings River Conservation District, said the Pine Flat Reservoir about 50 miles (80 kilometers) upstream can hold up to 1 million acre feet of water, but is expected to receive more than 3 million acre feet this spring from the melting snow. Officials have been forced to increase the flow of water out of the reservoir to make space for more, Merritt said.

“Once we’re at capacity, now you’re putting a lot of stress on those conveyance channels,” Merritt said. “It’s a very fast moving stream and it’s very deep right now.”

Island District residents have revived a decades-old network of neighbors for the first time since 1983 to assist each other in the event of a crisis. The last time the Island Property Protection Association activated, there was no such thing as text messages or even emails to quickly spread the word, said Tony Oliveira, a former county supervisor and the network’s administrator.

In a week, more than 200 people volunteered to help neighbors through the network, and the group’s website received more than 4,000 hits.

“It’s going to be four months of holding our breath,” Oliveira said.

The winter rains were welcomed by California’s parched cities and desperate growers, who have been grappling with intense drought for the past several years. The state has long tended toward wet and dry periods, but scientists at University of California, San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography have said they expect climate change will lead to drier dry years and wetter wet years.

What will determine how communities fare now is how quickly the weather heats up. If temperatures remain cool, snow will melt slowly, with water gradually flowing from the mountains. But a hot spell could send massive amounts of water churning through rivers that could potentially overflow, officials said. A beaver or a squirrel that tears a hole in a levee could also bring trouble.

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Rising temperatures this week have many residents on edge. Park officials announced plans to temporarily close part of Yosemite National Park starting Friday due to the threat of flooding. Reservations for campgrounds and lodging in eastern Yosemite Valley will automatically be canceled and refunded.

Michael Anderson, California’s state climatologist, said water inflows into some reservoirs are expected to double though he doesn’t expect the warming trend to cause immediate flooding in residential areas.

But in the coming weeks and months that could change. Gov. Gavin Newsom visited the reemerged lake Tuesday and said the worst is likely yet to come as more water reaches the basin.

“Where we’re standing likely will be underwater in a matter of weeks, if not months,” he said. “That’s very sobering.”

It isn’t the first time Kings County, home to 150,000 people in the fertile San Joaquin Valley, has faced these challenges.

Many longtime residents recall when Tulare Lake reappeared 40 years ago. Officials believe crops will remain under water much longer this time due to the massive snowpack, said Dusty Ference, executive director of the Kings County Farm Bureau. To date, more than 60,000 acres of farmland (242 square kilometers) have flooded, he said.

It also returned on a smaller scale in 1997, said Nicholas Pinter, associate director of the University of California, Davis Center for Watershed Sciences. He said the lake has always fluctuated in size due to California’s highly-variable water cycle, and farmers have long known there would be periods like this.

“It has been an engineering problem all along,” he said. “This is a bathtub with no drain.”

Near the lake, the city of Corcoran, which is home to 22,000 people including 8,000 state prisoners, began emergency construction to raise a levee that protects the community. The water behind the levee is already at 178 feet (54 meters), just 10 feet (3 meters) below the top. Officials want to raise the levee another 3.5 feet (1 meter), city officials said.

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“If that water rises above that amount, we will have water coming into our city and we will be in a critical situation,” said Greg Gatzka, Corcoran’s city manager.

In the Island District, residents don’t have a levee to protect them. They snap photos of wooden sticks placed near waterways to gauge water levels and banks and post them online to keep others informed. They’re helping place sandbags on elderly neighbors’ property and paying close attention to reports from water and county officials, and from each other.

Oliveira, whose family has lived in the area for generations, said he remembers moving cattle and horses when the rains came in 1983, and will do the same this time, if necessary.

“We’re farmers. We have bulldozers and backhoes, we have trailers. We can bring things to bear sometimes faster than the public agencies can,” Oliveira said. “The people who live in the Island are just kind of those neighbors taking care of neighbors.”

___

Taxin reported from Orange County, California.

Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

 

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli leaders on Sunday credited an international military coalition with helping thwart a direct Iranian attack involving hundreds of drones and missiles, calling the coordinated response a starting point for a “strategic alliance” of regional opposition to Tehran.

But Israel’s War Cabinet met without making a decision on next steps, an official said, as a nervous world waited for any sign of further escalation of the former shadow war.

The military coalition, led by the United States, Britain and France and appearing to include a number of Middle Eastern countries, gave Israel support at a time when it finds itself isolated over its war against Hamas in Gaza. The coalition also could serve as a model for regional relations when that war ends.

“This was the first time that such a coalition worked together against the threat of Iran and its proxies in the Middle East,” said the Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

One unknown is which of Israel’s neighbors participated in the shooting down of the vast majority of about 350 drones and missiles Iran launched. Israeli military officials and a key War Cabinet member noted additional “partners” without naming them. When pressed, White House national security spokesman John Kirby would not name them either.

But one appeared to be Jordan, which described its action as self-defense.

“There was an assessment that there was a real danger of Iranian marches and missiles falling on Jordan, and the armed forces dealt with this danger. And if this danger came from Israel, Jordan would take the same action,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said in an interview on Al-Mamlaka state television. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday.

The U.S. has long tried to forge a regionwide alliance against Iran as a way of integrating Israel and boosting ties with the Arab world. The effort has included the 2020 Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries, and having Israel in the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and works closely with the armies of moderate Arab states.

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The U.S. had been working to establish full relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack sparked Israel’s war in Gaza. The war, which has claimed over 33,700 Palestinian lives, has frozen those efforts due to widespread outrage across the Arab world. But it appears that some behind-the-scenes cooperation has continued, and the White House has held out hopes of forging Israel-Saudi ties as part of a postwar plan.

Just ahead of Iran’s attack, the commander of CENTCOM, Gen. Erik Kurilla, visited Israel to map out a strategy.

Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, on Sunday thanked CENTCOM for the joint defensive effort. Both Jordan and Saudi Arabia are under the CENTCOM umbrella. While neither acknowledged involvement in intercepting Iran’s launches, the Israeli military released a map showing missiles traveling through the airspace of both nations.

“Arab countries came to the aid of Israel in stopping the attack because they understand that regional organizing is required against Iran, otherwise they will be next in line,” Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said he had spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and that the cooperation “highlighted the opportunity to establish an international coalition and strategic alliance to counter the threat posed by Iran.”

The White House signaled that it hopes to build on the partnerships and urged Israel to think twice before striking Iran. U.S. officials said Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would not participate in any offensive action against Iran.

Israel’s War Cabinet met late Sunday to discuss a possible response, but an Israeli official familiar with the talks said no decisions had been made. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential deliberations.

Asked about plans for retaliation, Hagari declined to comment directly. “We are at high readiness in all fronts,” he said.

“We will build a regional coalition and collect the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us,” said a key War Cabinet member, Benny Gantz.

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Iran launched the attack in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel that hit an Iranian consular building in Syria this month and killed two Iranian generals.

By Sunday morning, Iran said the attack was over, and Israel reopened its airspace. Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, claimed Iran had taught Israel a lesson and warned that “any new adventures against the interests of the Iranian nation would be met with a heavier and regretful response from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The foes have been engaged in a shadow war for years, but Sunday’s assault was the first time Iran launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran said it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus strike, and that it told the White House early Sunday that the operation would be “minimalistic.”

But U.S. officials said Iran’s intent was to “destroy and cause casualties” and that if successful, the strikes would have caused an “uncontrollable” escalation. At one point, at least 100 ballistic missiles were in the air with just minutes of flight time to Israel, the officials said.

Israel said more than 99% of what Iran fired was intercepted, with just a few missiles getting through. An Israeli airbase sustained minor damage.

Israel has over the years established — often with the help of the U.S. — a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats, including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets.

That system, along with collaboration with the U.S. and others, helped thwart what could have been a far more devastating assault at a time when Israel is already deeply engaged in Gaza as well as low-level fighting on its northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran.

While thwarting the Iranian onslaught could help restore Israel’s image after the Hamas attack in October, what the Middle East’s best-equipped army does next will be closely watched in the region and in Western capitals — especially as Israel seeks to develop the coalition it praised Sunday.

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In Washington, Biden pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would hold talks with allies. After an urgent meeting, the Group of Seven countries unanimously condemned Iran’s attack and said they stood ready to take “further measures.”

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s war in Gaza. In the Oct. 7 attack, militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also backed by Iran, killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Hamas welcomed Iran’s attack, saying it was “a natural right and a deserved response” to the strike in Syria. It urged the Iran-backed groups in the region to continue to support Hamas in the war.

Hezbollah also welcomed the attack. Almost immediately after the war in Gaza erupted, Hezbollah began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

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Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Michelle L. Price in Washington; Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan; and Giada Zampano in Rome contributed to this report.

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

New York lawmakers are proposing rules to humanely drive down the population of rats and other rodents, eyeing contraception and a ban on glue traps as alternatives to poison or a slow, brutal death.

Politicians have long come up with creative ways to battle the rodents, but some lawmakers are now proposing city and statewide measures to do more.

In New York City, the idea to distribute rat contraceptives got fresh attention in city government Thursday following the death of an escaped zoo owl, known as Flaco, who was found dead with rat poison in his system.

City Council Member Shaun Abreu proposed a city ordinance Thursday that would establish a pilot program for controlling the millions of rats lurking in subway stations and empty lots by using birth control instead of lethal chemicals. Abreu, chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, said the contraceptives also are more ethical and humane than other methods.

The contraceptive, called ContraPest, is contained in salty, fatty pellets that are scattered in rat-infested areas as bait. It works by targeting ovarian function in female rats and disrupting sperm cell production in males, The New York Times reported.

New York exterminators currently kill rats using snap and glue traps, poisons that make them bleed internally, and carbon monoxide gas that can suffocate them in burrows. Some hobbyists have even trained their dogs to hunt them.

Rashad Edwards, a film and television actor who runs pest management company Scurry Inc. in New York City with his wife, said the best method he has found when dealing with rodents is carbon monoxide.

He tries to use the most humane method possible, and carbon monoxide euthanizes the rats slowly, putting them to sleep and killing them. Edwards avoids using rat poison whenever possible because it is dangerous and torturous to the rodents, he said.

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Some lawmakers in Albany are considering a statewide ban on glue boards under a bill moving through the Legislature. The traps, usually made from a slab of cardboard or plastic coated in a sticky material, can also ensnare small animals that land on its surface.

Edwards opposes a ban on sticky traps, because he uses them on other pests, such as ants, to reduce overall pesticide use. When ants get into a house, he uses sticky traps to figure out where they’re most often passing by. It helps him narrow zones of pesticide use “so that you don’t go spray the entire place.”

“This is not a problem we can kill our way out of,” said Jakob Shaw, a special project manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “It’s time to embrace these more common sense and humane methods.”

Two cities in California have passed bans on glue traps in recent years. On the federal level, a bill currently in committee would ban the traps nationwide.

“It ends a really inhumane practice of managing rat populations,” said Jabari Brisport, the New York state senator who represents part of Brooklyn and sponsored the bill proposing the new guidelines. “There are more effective and more humane ways to deal with rats.”

Every generation of New Yorkers has struggled to control rat populations. Mayor Eric Adams hired a “rat czar” last year tasked with battling the detested rodents. Last month, New York City reduced the amount of food served up to rats by mandating all businesses to put trash out in boxes.

While the war on rats has no end in sight, the exterminator Edwards said we can learn a lot from their resilience. The rodents, he said, can never be eradicated, only managed.

“They’re very smart, and they’re very wise,” he said. “It’s very inspiring but just — not in my house.”

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A small earthquake shook the Southern California desert Saturday near Coachella, where the famous music festival is being held this weekend. No damage or injuries were reported.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 3.8, hit at 9:08 a.m. about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northeast of Borrego Springs in Riverside County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The epicenter was about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Coachella. It struck at a depth of about 7 miles (11 kilometers), the USGS said.

A dispatcher with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said there were no calls reporting any problems from the quake.

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