Destruction or Reclamation? Lake Tulare Reborn

PUBLISHED APR 5, 2023 10:04 A.M.
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Soumya Karlamangla and Shawn Hubler, veteran California journalists now writing for the New York Times, this week visited the San Joaquin Valley to report on the return of Lake Tulare

Their deeply researched and reported piece, with photos by Mark Abramson, tells the story of what was once a vast inland sea, which has been transformed into one of the most productive and valuable pieces of farmland on earth. As they report, this winter’s unprecedented storms have brought floodwaters that have already inundated farmlands and communities in the valley.

The lake’s rebirth has become a slow-motion disaster for farmers and residents in Kings County, home to 152,000 residents and a $2 billion agricultural industry that sends cotton, tomatoes, safflower, pistachios, milk and more around the planet. The wider and deeper Tulare Lake gets, the greater the risk that entire harvests will be lost, homes will be submerged and businesses will go under.”

As they report, the devastation is likely to get much worse, as warming spring weather in the Sierra Nevada results in what has already been labeled “the Big Melt.” 

David Robinson, the sheriff of Kings County, predicted that the coming flood will be “biblical.”

“This will impact the world, if people can just grasp that,” Robinson said. “We’re going to have a million acre-foot of water covering up an area that feeds the world.”

Meanwhile, in the Los Angeles Times, Trace Fleeman Garcia writes that Tulare Lake has reclaimed its lakebed many times in the century since California farmers drained it. 

In an opinion piece titled “Don’t call it a comeback: California’s Tulare Lake never really went away,” Fleeman Garcia writes that “Tulare Lake is not a phantom, but a revenant: that which returns. Its resurgence was noted in 1997 and 1983, and now this year, but it’s a constant cycle.”

He goes on to quote the Algerian French philosopher Jacques Derrida: “A ghost never dies; it remains always to come and to come-back.”

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