Until the early 1900s, central California’s Tulare Lake naturally
appeared every winter as the southernmost rivers flowing out of
the Sierra Nevada Mountains filled the dry lakebed with rainfall
and melted snow.
Farmers adjacent to the lake also used the water to irrigate
their lands. But the variable shoreline made growing seasons
unpredictable. In response, Pine Flat Dam was built by the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers to control Kings River flows. The Kings
River is still used extensively for irrigation.
Because the Tulare Lake Basin’s irrigation water does not have an
outlet, agricultural drainage is stored in a series of
evaporation ponds in and near the lakebed, which has been
converted to farm fields. By the 1980s the water drained
into 28 ponds totaling 7,300 acres. Crop production improved in
part due to improved drainage. Today, drainage water from about
44,046 acres of farmland is contained and evaporated from eight
basins encompassing 4,740 acres of evaporation ponds.
Members of the public have just a few more days to let the
state know whether they think groundwater management in Kings
County should be taken over by the State Water Resources
Control Board. A draft report by Water Board staff is
recommending the Tulare Lake subbasin, which covers Kings
County, be put on probation under the Sustainable Groundwater
Management Act. That could have serious consequences, such as
imposing strict pumping allotments, fees and fines on area
farmers. … The board will consider the report and the
public’s input before making a determination at a hearing on
April 16, 2024.
A unique land trust in southwestern Tulare County that aims to
preserve farming by strategically fallowing land for habitat is
moving forward on several projects. The Tule Basin Land & Water
Conservation Trust was formed in 2020 by area farmers and water
managers intent on finding solutions to the region’s
groundwater woes that didn’t include a massive and random
shuttering of productive farmland. How is it possible to save
farming through fallowing? The trust’s ongoing Capinero
Creek and Lower Deer creek projects are two examples.
Capinero Creek is a 467-acre former dairy next to the Pixley
National Wildlife Refuge. The project, funded by a grant from
the Bureau of Reclamation, will restore alkali scrub habitat on
the site for threatened and endangered species.
When Californians talk of lakes, they usually mean reservoirs,
the 1500 or so artificial bodies of water behind dams.
Alternately, they may be referring to the 4,000 or so natural
lakes in the Sierra Nevada or to one of the few large natural
lakes in the state, such as Lake Tahoe or Clear Lake. But some
of the most interesting lakes in the state draw our attention
mainly when demand for water threatens to dry them up. These
are terminal lakes, that mostly depend on seasonal rain or snow
melt to maintain them as lakes. They are called terminal lakes
because water flows into the basins through streams, but leaves
mostly by evaporation or sinking into underground aquifers.
Each lake has its own unique chemistry and other
characteristics, although most are highly productive so are
important to migratory waterfowl and invertebrates.
When Tulare Lake refilled this past spring, the two state
prisons located in the Kings County City of Corcoran escaped
flooding thanks to the levee that surrounds the city. But how
did they even come to be built in the historical lakebed, which
is known to refill every few decades? That was the question
asked by independent journalist Susie Cagle in a recent
investigation for the non-profit newsroom The Marshall Project.
In this interview with KVPR’s Kerry Klein, Cagle begins by
taking us back to conversations that happened 40 years ago.
The sun had risen above the asthmatic haze of California’s San
Joaquin Valley, and the disaster tourists would soon be
arriving at the edge of Tulare Lake to take their selfies. It
was a Saturday, two days before Memorial Day. County health
authorities had warned the public to stay out of the
contaminated water, an unwholesome brew of pesticides and
animal waste. … Though I had no interest in tangling
with Johnny Law, I recognized this unusual spring for what it
was: a once-in-a-generation opportunity to travel, by way of
the federally navigable waters that all Americans have a stake
in, 200-plus miles from the heart of these floods, a natural
disaster by any measure, to the man-made disaster that is the
Delta of San Francisco Bay.
Nearly 10 months after floods devastated parts of Planada and
Woodlake, residents in both small towns have banded together,
hired attorneys and are pursuing legal action. More than 250
households are involved between the two towns. Residents
in the Tulare County town of Springville are also working
toward legal action after flooding knocked out wells and
residents suffered prolonged water shortages. The attorney for
Springville residents did not respond to requests for
comment. It’s early stages for the legal battles, which
aren’t technically lawsuits yet for either Woodlake nor
Planada, said Shant Karnikian, partner at Kabateck LLP who is
representing residents in both towns. Karnikian is also
representing residents in the hard hit town of Pajaro on the
Residents living below the Isabella Auxiliary Dam were thrilled
earlier this month with a temporary fix that finally dried up
excessive seepage from the dam that had been swamping septic
systems and breeding forests of mosquito-infested weeds around
their homes. The didn’t realize how temporary the fix would be,
however. After only 12 days without a river cutting through his
land, rancher Gerald Wenstrand woke up to see the seepage back
… A state audit from the California Water Resources Control
Board released last year found that over 920,000 residents
faced an increased risk of illness–including cancer, liver and
kidney problems–due to consuming unsafe drinking water. A
majority of these unsafe water systems are in the Central
Valley. The matter has prompted community leaders to mobilize
residents around water quality as politicians confront
imperfect solutions for the region’s supply. Advocates point
out that impacted areas, including those in Tulare County, tend
to be majority Latino with low median incomes. … This
year’s extreme weather has only worsened the valley’s problems.
The storms that hit California at the start of this year caused
stormwater tainted with farm industry fertilizer, manure and
nitrates to flow into valley aquifers.
A new underground mapping technology
that reveals the best spots for storing surplus water in
California’s Central Valley is providing a big boost to the
state’s most groundwater-dependent communities.
The maps provided by the California Department of Water Resources
for the first time pinpoint paleo valleys and similar prime
underground storage zones traditionally found with some guesswork
by drilling exploratory wells and other more time-consuming
manual methods. The new maps are drawn from data on the
composition of underlying rock and soil gathered by low-flying
helicopters towing giant magnets.
The unique peeks below ground are saving water agencies’
resources and allowing them to accurately devise ways to capture
water from extreme storms and soak or inject the surplus
underground for use during the next drought.
“Understanding where you’re putting and taking water from really
helps, versus trying to make multimillion-dollar decisions based
on a thumb and which way the wind is blowing,” said Aaron Fukuda,
general manager of the Tulare Irrigation District, an early
adopter of the airborne electromagnetic or
AEM technology in California.
This tour ventured through California’s Central Valley, known as the nation’s breadbasket thanks to an imported supply of surface water and local groundwater. Covering about 20,000 square miles through the heart of the state, the valley provides 25 percent of the nation’s food, including 40 percent of all fruits, nuts and vegetables consumed throughout the country.
A new era of groundwater management
began in 2014 with the passage of the Sustainable Groundwater
Management Act (SGMA), which aims for local and regional agencies
to develop and implement sustainable groundwater management
plans with the state as the backstop.
SGMA defines “sustainable groundwater management” as the
“management and use of groundwater in a manner that can be
maintained during the planning and implementation horizon without
causing undesirable results.”
This 25-minute documentary-style DVD, developed in partnership
with the California Department of Water Resources, provides an
excellent overview of climate change and how it is already
affecting California. The DVD also explains what scientists
anticipate in the future related to sea level rise and
precipitation/runoff changes and explores the efforts that are
underway to plan and adapt to climate.
Salt. In a small amount, it’s a gift from nature. But any doctor
will tell you, if you take in too much salt, you’ll start to have
health problems. The same negative effect is happening to land in
the Central Valley. The problem scientists call “salinity” poses
a growing threat to our food supply, our drinking water quality
and our way of life. The problem of salt buildup and potential –
but costly – solutions are highlighted in this 2008 public
television documentary narrated by comedian Paul Rodriguez.
A new look for our most popular product! And it’s the perfect
gift for the water wonk in your life.
Our 24×36 inch California Water Map is widely known for being the
definitive poster that shows the integral role water plays in the
state. On this updated version, it is easier to see California’s
natural waterways and man-made reservoirs and aqueducts
– including federally, state and locally funded
projects – the wild and scenic rivers system, and
natural lakes. The map features beautiful photos of
California’s natural environment, rivers, water projects,
wildlife, and urban and agricultural uses and the
text focuses on key issues: water supply, water use, water
projects, the Delta, wild and scenic rivers and the Colorado
Until the early 1900s, Central
California’s Tulare Lake naturally appeared every winter as the
southernmost rivers flowing out of the Sierra Nevada filled the
dry lakebed with rainfall and melted snow.
In the spring, the shallow lake near Visalia could cover as much
as 790 square miles, or four times the surface area of Lake
Tahoe. By the end of the hot San Joaquin Valley summer, however,
the giant lake – once the largest freshwater body west of the
Mississippi River – could disappear primarily due to evaporation.