This California Lake was Drained Decades Ago. It’s Reappearing Amidst Historic Rainfall.

Photo: California Department of Water Resources

Tulare Lake, a historical landmark in California, is on the brink of re-emerging due to atmospheric rivers hitting the state and causing flooding.

Farmers on the lake bottom are concerned, while environmentalists hope to use this opportunity to permanently restore the lake, which last appeared in 1983. Officials in Corcoran, located in the old lakebed, have reinforced levees to protect the city when the record Sierra snowpack melts. However, some communities like Allensworth and Alpaugh in Tulare County are under evacuation warnings due to overflowing rivers.

Tulare Lake was once the most dominant feature on the California map, covering around 800 square miles. The lake’s size fluctuated with rainfall and snowmelt from surrounding rivers and streams. The lake was relatively shallow and teeming with fish and shellfish, supporting four distinct Yokuts tribes. After the Gold Rush, settlers redirected rivers for irrigation, causing the lake to shrink but not disappear entirely. In the 1920s, cotton farmers from the Southern states began farming on the lake bottom and constructed dams on major rivers feeding the lake, keeping water out of the lake bed.

Environmentalists see the lake’s possible return as an opportunity to revisit decisions made in the past and possibly establish a Tulare Lake Conservancy. However, many underserved towns in the San Joaquin Valley are at risk of flooding as the snowpack melts, making it premature to push for lake restoration.

The Army Corps of Engineers has begun releasing more water from Pine Flat Dam, which will be sent south to Tulare Lake as the north channel is full. Flood releases will last “indefinitely” until summer. For farmers on the lake bottom, a re-emerged lake means they will be unable to farm. Mark Arax, author and historian, called it a self-inflicted wound, as thousands of acres of pistachios have been planted at the bottom of the lake. He argued that big farming companies are ignoring their own history and are planting permanent crops in the lake.

Environmental law attorney Richard Harriman views the potential return of the lake as a blessing and an opportunity to create a Tulare Lake Conservancy that would acquire a portion of the lake. He envisions the conservancy as a “reservoir without a dam” that includes environmentalists, public officials, farmers, and Native Americans. Farmers could continue to farm elsewhere on the lake bottom.

However, some advocates argue that it is too early to push for the “Restore Tulare Lake” movement because many underserved San Joaquin Valley towns are experiencing flood problems or are at risk of flooding as the snowpack melts. Dezaraye Bagalayos, director of program coordination for the Allensworth Progressive Association, has urged advocates to focus on the present situation rather than the possible return of Tulare Lake.

In Corcoran, a city located in the footprint of the old Tulare Lake, a local state of emergency has been declared to prepare for the rising lake that could threaten the city

However, if the lake does return this summer as expected, a recently reinforced levee to the west should protect the city. The levee was raised several feet five years ago as part of a project by the Cross Creek Flood Control District. City Manager Greg Gatzka said that the top of the levee, which would contain a rising lake, is about 188 feet above sea level, while the lowest point in the lake bed is about 166 feet.

Water managers warn that the danger to the public from flooding will continue when the first hot spell begins melting the Sierra snowpack. Randall McFarland, a spokesman for the Kings River Water Association, said, “This is just the beginning. The problem starts when the snow melts in April.” With an estimated 2.5 to 3 million acre-feet of water in the King River watershed and Pine Flat Lake holding 1 million acre-feet, the runoff will inevitably flow into Tulare Lake.

In Tulare County, Lake Success reached the “fill and spill” stage for several days during the atmospheric river rainstorms, causing flooding along the lower Tule River and water to flow towards Tulare Lake. More flood releases are expected as the snowpack melts. In normal years, most of the water is diverted for irrigation and recharge, with very little going to the Tulare Lake bed. This year, however, the situation will be different, according to Eric Limas, general manager of Lower Tule River Irrigation District. Although the district will use as much water as possible for irrigation and groundwater recharge, a significant amount of water will still head west towards Tulare Lake.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California

23 Comments

  1. Why do people think that they can live in an active lakebed! It was created a lake and man decided to change it and now Mother Nature wants it back! It floods every time there’s a wet year. It’s time to realize it’s a Lake and not intended to be farmland! It’s also great for replacement of underground water table.

  2. Hello there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would
    be ok. I’m definitely enjoying your blog and
    look forward to new posts.

  3. Attractive section of content. I just stumbled upon your web site and in accession capital to assert that I acquire in fact enjoyed account your blog posts.

    Any way I’ll be subscribing to your augment and even I achievement you
    access consistently rapidly.

  4. Today, I went to the beach front with my kids.

    I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said
    “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell to her ear and screamed.
    There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this
    is totally off topic but I had to tell someone!

  5. Have you ever considered writing an ebook or guest authoring on other sites?
    I have a blog based on the same subjects you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know
    my subscribers would appreciate your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel
    free to send me an e mail.

  6. Hello, Neat post. There is an issue together with your website in web explorer, may test this?
    IE nonetheless is the marketplace chief and a huge part of
    people will leave out your magnificent writing due to this problem.

  7. Hi! I’ve been reading your weblog for a while now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout
    out from Atascocita Tx! Just wanted to say keep up the fantastic job!

  8. Aw, this was a really nice post. Taking a few minutes and actual effort to produce a
    good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate a whole
    lot and never manage to get nearly anything done.

  9. Wow, amazing blog layout! How long have you been blogging
    for? you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your site is
    great, let alone the content!

  10. You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to
    be really something that I think I would never understand.
    It seems too complicated and extremely broad for
    me. I am looking forward for your next post, I’ll try
    to get the hang of it!

  11. You could certainly see your expertise within the work
    you write. The world hopes for even more passionate
    writers like you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe.

    All the time follow your heart.

  12. Howdy! I simply would like to give you a huge thumbs up for your excellent info you
    have got here on this post. I’ll be returning to your
    blog for more soon.

  13. It’s appropriate time to make some plans for the long run and it is time
    to be happy. I have read this publish and if I may just I wish to counsel
    you few fascinating issues or advice. Perhaps you can write next articles referring to this article.
    I desire to learn more things approximately it!

  14. It’s in reality a nice and useful piece of information. I
    am glad that you shared this useful info with us. Please stay us up to date like
    this. Thank you for sharing.

  15. Wow, wonderful blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?

    you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your site is fantastic, let alone the content!

    You can see similar: Velorian.top and here Velorian.top

  16. Wow, awesome blog layout! How lengthy have you
    ever been blogging for? you make running a blog look easy.
    The whole glance of your site is fantastic, let alone the content!
    You can see similar: sklep internetowy and here sklep internetowy

  17. Wow, fantastic blog structure! How long have you been blogging for?
    you make blogging glance easy. The entire look of your website is
    excellent, as well as the content! You can see similar:
    dobry sklep and here sklep internetowy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button