Tuesday May 30, 2023

Courthouse News Service

After an unexpected wet winter, California’s drought-addled Central Valley now faces dangerous floods as a historic snowpack melts — even as the state moves to store the liquid gold as quickly as possible. 

Once the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River at about 650 square miles, it hosted a diverse ecosystem and many Indigenous people. When the lake dried as rivers were diverted for cities and farming, agricultural communities appeared thanks to the rich soil.

Today, the basin spans several counties and produces more than half of the state’s agricultural output, according to the Public Policy Institute. Those crops account for 97% of regional water use, often relying groundwater pumping in dry years.

Without an outlet to the ocean, water normally leaves the basin through evaporation and agriculture. The lake occasionally reappears in particularly wet years. Snowpack from recent storms melts into about 4 million acre-feet of additional runoff, leaving 103,000 acres underwater. Communities within the Tulare Lake Basin will be on flood alert well into July. 

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