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Will the Officials in Charge Help Allensworth Residents as Homes Start to Flood?



Water from the White River flows under Highway 43, toward a BNSF bridge and the small town of Allensworth on Thursday, March 23, 2023. (SJV Water/Jesse Vad)
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CORRECTION: This article incorrectly stated that the community of Allensworth was not covered by a flood control district and that no agency was taking responsibility for excess water in the area were inaccurate. The Deer Creek Storm Water District has jurisdiction over Allensworth and its staff has been working with the community on flooding issues.

Residents of the small Tulare County town of Allensworth are desperate for answers about why floodwater from the White River is being allowed to rush toward them.

Jesse Vad

SJV Water

So far, a string of agencies have said they aren’t responsible, but it’s unclear which ones are able to help.

With no answers so far, community members took matters into their own hands, blocking floodwater, only to butt heads with the Burlington, Northern, Santa Fe Railroad.

The White River’s excess flows are coming through a culvert beneath BNSF railroad tracks directly toward the historic Black town.

That is the biggest concern right now, said Kayode Kadara, a community leader in the town.

Kadara finally had a conversation with a spokesperson from BNSF on Tuesday and again on Thursday but other than that, community members haven’t heard from anyone, he said.

Kayode Kadara, of Allensworth, loads a wheelbarrow with sandbags to protect his house. (SJV Water/Jesse Vad)

With no official explanations or discussions that included Allensworth residents, more than 25 community members went to the culvert on March 16 and used sandbags and plywood to divert the water and slow the flow, said Kadara.

“As a community, we felt it was important that we do certain things to protect ourselves,” said Kadara. “Instead of BNSF looking at this community and saying, ‘what can we do to help?’ they’ve taken a totally antagonistic posture.”

BNSF workers removed the makeshift diversion the same night.

“Essentially what they (community members) did is, they put that entire track structure in jeopardy by removing the material that was there to hold it,” said Lena Kent, general director of public affairs for BNSF. “But really what they should have been doing is talking to the county, talking to Caltrans and not just going in.”

Caltrans, CalFire Are Among the Decision-Makers

BNSF isn’t responsible for decisions about floodwater on its property, said Kent. Those decisions are made by other agencies such as the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans,) she added.

But Allensworth residents say they haven’t been able to get help or explanations from any agencies.

Kadara said he invited BNSF to bring hydrologists and assess the situation with the community but has heard nothing back.

“They’ve just ignored us,” he said. “They haven’t come up with a solution to help this community in seven days. And there’s water still flowing here.”

Staff from Congressman David Valadao’s office reached out to BNSF to inquire about the situation. But that was only to establish a point of contact, said a spokesperson from Valadao’s office.

No Comment From Supervisor Vander Poel

Tulare County Supervisor Pete Vander Poel, whose district includes Allensworth, did not return repeated requests for comment.

Meanwhile, the water spilling in under the railroad is worsening, Kadara added. After it passes under the railroad, the water snakes around through a field as it edges near homes and the Allensworth State Historic Park. That water is now significantly eroding the only ground left that’s holding some of it back, said Kadara.

Kadara met with CalFire workers Thursday in a last-ditch attempt to get someone to help take action to halt the flow.

All that can be determined at this point is who isn’t responsible, according to conversations with several agencies.

About SJV Water

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.

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