7 votes

Tulare lake is re-emerging in California, and farms and communities are going underwater


  1. skybrian
    From the article: [...] [...] [...] [...] [...]

    From the article:

    Known as Tulare Lake, the freshwater body was said to be the largest west of the Mississippi River. Steamships trafficked its ports, elk and antelope visited its shores, and the distant Sierra Nevada peeked above its waters. By the 20th century, its eventual demise was underway, the inflows diverted and the land reclaimed for agriculture.

    But this year, after one of the wettest winters in modern times, the storied Tulare Lake is re-emerging. The rivers and creeks that fed it have swelled with so much rain and snowmelt that they’re overwhelming the dams and levees designed to hold the water back. Already, a small inland sea has formed. When the wind picks up, there are even waves and whitecaps.


    A century and a half ago, Corcoran’s 22,500 residents — a few thousand of whom are at the city’s other big industry, the state prison — would have been at the bottom of Tulare Lake. A series of levees today prevents water from returning. The recent flooding, though, is testing these defenses.

    “At this point, we feel like the city is doing reasonably well,” said City Manager Greg Gatzka at his office at City Hall, previously a tortilla factory and tractor repair shop, where he has been monitoring the re-emerging lake. “But there’s a lot of uncertainty with the snowmelt. If it becomes too much water, it’s a whole different situation.”


    Every now and then, during times of extreme winter weather, the runoff from the mountains is too much for the modern water systems to handle, and the lake makes a reappearance. The last time the lake emerged in earnest was 1983, with a smaller showing in 1997.

    But this year is different, and many say the flooding could be a lot more extensive than in the past.

    For one, the floor of the valley has dropped in recent decades with increased groundwater pumping by farms, meaning more land might be subject to inundation, said Jeffrey Mount, a senior fellow at the Water Policy Center at the Public Policy Institute of California.

    And secondly, and perhaps more significantly, Mount noted, the amount of snow in the mountains is greater. The southern Sierra, which feeds the rivers that flow to the Tulare Lake basin, has nearly three times its average snowpack, likely the most in a century.


    Behind the scenes, landowners have been in conversation, and sometimes dispute, with one another as well as with neighboring communities and government officials over where to direct the surge of floodwater.

    With the reservoirs at the big upstream dams at near full capacity, water is being allowed to flow downstream, where the valley’s grid of canals, pipes and ditches is overstretched and spilling. The surplus water inevitably moves toward the low point, the old Tulare Lake. Unlike many areas, this basin has no outflow to the sea.


    Residents of the Tulare County outposts of Allensworth and Alpaugh, which are seeing high water circle their towns, want J.G. Boswell and other big landowners to do more to fend off the flooding. They say the dry farmland next door, not their neighborhoods, should absorb the excess flows.


    Flood protection in California is largely a local affair, with water agencies, special districts and private companies building and maintaining the infrastructure. Smaller towns, like those in the San Joaquin Valley, often don’t have the money to develop their own levee systems, and while the state and federal government help out, winning investment from them isn’t easy.

    The Tulare Lake basin also doesn’t have major Army Corps of Engineers flood projects to buffer large amounts of water as do some areas such as the Sacramento region.

    2 votes
  2. skybrian
    Some other articles about this by SJV Water, which is a small nonprofit news site for San Joaquin Valley: Flooding out other farmers was “premeditated” by the powerful J.G. Boswell Company, one...

    Some other articles about this by SJV Water, which is a small nonprofit news site for San Joaquin Valley:

    Flooding out other farmers was “premeditated” by the powerful J.G. Boswell Company, one farmer asserts

    The Hansens and others at that March 18 meeting and elsewhere, have said Boswell ignored a time-honored flood management process to fill the lowest part of the lake first. That allows rivers and streams to flow freely for longer, minimizing damage to upstream areas. Instead, critics have said, the company tried to hold water off the lowest part of the lake, opting to fill spaces around the edges first.

    “We know we’re in a huge flood,” Phil Hansen said March 18. “And those areas would have flooded anyway. ” But filling the lake from the bottom up would have given people more time to protect their homes and move belongings and livestock out of harm’s way.

    Allensworth flooding getting state level attention – will it help?

    For Allensworth, one of the most pressing concerns is overflow from the White River which is pouring into the east side of town and threatening homes. That was one of the issues community members discussed with Nemeth.

    After seeing the problem, Nemeth told residents that she’d meet with her engineers and see if there was something that could be done quickly about the White River flow, said Kayode Kadara, community leader in Allensworth who met with Nemeth.


    Before Nemeth’s visit, no agencies took responsibility for decisions about the flooding in Allensworth. The small town is not under the jurisdiction of any flood control district, a consequence of the fragmented local response system in the southern San Joaquin Valley.

    1 vote