For those unfamiliar with California’s History, at one time not so long ago there was a giant lake about 1/2 way from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
Kern Lake, originally Laguna de los Tulares, was the smallest of the three large lakes in the Tulare Basin, in the southwestern San Joaquin Valley of California.
It was the first of the lakes fed by the Kern River. Kern Lake is now a dry lake bed, due to agricultural diversion of the Kern River waters and the aquifer.
As an interesting note, it wasn’t the only lake in the area that has been lost. Here’s the second largest:
Buena Vista Lake, is a former fresh-water lake now a dry lake in Kern County, California in the Tulare Lake Basin in the southern San Joaquin Valley, California.
Buena Vista Lake was the second largest of several similar lakes in the Tulare Lake basin, and was fed by the waters of the Kern River. The Kern River’s flow went into Buena Vista Lake southwest through the site Bakersfield via its main distributary channels or south through the Kern River Slough distributary into Kern Lake and then into Buena Vista Lake via Connecting Slough.
In times when Buena Vista Lake overflowed it first backed up into Kern Lake making one large lake. When this larger lake overflowed it flowed out through the Buena Vista Slough and Kern River channel northwest of Buena Vista Lake through tule marshland and Goose Lake, into Tulare Lake.
In the mid 20th century, Buena Vista Lake dried up after its tributary river waters were impounded in Isabella Dam and for agricultural irrigation and municipal water uses.
Today Lake Webb and Lake Evans occupy the lakebed of the northern shore the former Buena Vista Lake.
Now what got me thinking about these lakes, other than the general constant awareness of California and drought, and knowing that these old lakes were highly variable as the rains varied, and wondering of any old records of lake extent might be useful for recording prior drought periods; was, well, they might be illegally gone.
You see, L.A. was busy sucking the life out of Mono Lake and had it on the path to dehydration via the very same “dam the tributaries and run off with the water”. They had bought up the water rights after all… HOWEVER, there’s a law on the books saying that you can’t cause a “navigable water” to become unnavigable. Folks found some very old pictures of rowboats doing excursions on Mono Lake. Folks sued. L.A. lost. We got Mono Lake back.
Well, in this article here (bold marking added by me):
That starts off with a fanciful story of a pseudo-satellite making an image of California in 1851, they present both a recreation of what such a photo might have looked like, but also have this bit of interesting history:
“[The Central Valley] used to have a big lake and lots of marshes from water runoff from the mountains. Dams and irrigation stopped all that many years ago. But I’ve always wondered what it looked like around here before that.”
Surprisingly, a satellite picture in 1851 would have shown a large lake in the southern part of the Valley. Tulare Lake once was the largest freshwater body west of the Great Lakes, and its fish-rich waters supported local Indian tribes for centuries. Tulare Lake’s size varied widely, dependent on both rain and mountain snows for nourishment. At around the time this picture would have been taken, it would have measured about 580 sq. mi (1,500 km2). Thirty years later, it would have swelled to almost 700 sq. mi (1,800 km2).
“You could take a boat from Bakersfield to Stockton using the waterways as shown”, Mr Clark says. “A 50 foot schooner sailed the lake for many years and there were five piers for loading and unloading located around the lake. The current community of Alpaugh is located on what once was one of the islands you see depicted.”
But in a process reminiscent of the drying-up of the Aral Sea or Lake Chad , Tulare Lake was depleted by the diversion of its tributaries for the purpose of irrigation. By the early 20th century, the lake was largely dry.
Only very occasionally, when rains or snowmelt flood this area of the Valley, does a dim shadow of Tulare Lake return, to blame the humans for its death by designed desiccation…
Now I’m no lawyer, but I’m pretty sure there was no statute of limitations in that navigable waters act. In theory, showing that those waters were navigable, and now are no longer navigable due to diversions, would require all that water be allowed to return… This would put most of Kern County under water, along with dramatically changing the character of California. $Billions of farm land and several cities would go “POOF!” (or perhaps that’s “glug…”)
Here’s a link to the image they have on the page. It’s easier to see were the lake was in their image (and ‘hit the link’ for the rest of their shtick… it’s pretty good.)
Personally, I think it would be a far better use of Kern County than the present cotton growing and grazing… but then again, I don’t live there. It would likely solve the salinity groundwater problems they are having, and even help flush excess selenium out of Kesterson… as the lake would again, from time to time, flood the rest of the San Joaquin valley with water that otherwise would evaporate leaving minerals behind.
There were several unique species from the lake area, including the Tule Elk. Only a few of them survive (hard to be a lake elk in a desert…); but with the return of the lake, those species would have a home again. Even if the people were homeless.
Me? I’m going off to the patio to watch the rain clouds during our drought as I decide “should I laugh, cry, or just sit in the corner and look dumbfounded?…”