Friday, June 14, 2024
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Giant Lake Returns 130 Years After Vanishing

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Giant Lake Returns 130 Years After Vanishing

Giant Lake Returns 130 Years After Vanishing

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The Tulare Lake is more than a body of water to residents of California’s San Joaquin Valley; it is a lifeline. In the past, it was the largest freshwater lake in the whole country. Then, like the Avatar, it vanished 130 years ago, plunging those who depended on it into a drought that tested their resolve. One that showed them the errors of their ways for the disappearance of the lake was brought about by colonial greed and massive water drainage. 

A Glorious Past

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The Tulare lake was a special sight in the late 19th century. Stretching over 100 miles with a width of 30 miles, it was named the largest body of “fresh water west of the Mississippi River” by Vivian Underhill of Northeastern University in a press release.

Underhill’s Description of Tulare Lake

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According to Underhill in the press release, the Tulare lake was so full back then that it could take a steamship carrying food supplies from the Bakersfield area to Fresno, which is located in the central San Joaquin Valley, and then to San Francisco. That is a distance of nearly 300 miles. 

Did She Exagerrate?

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Information from the National Weather Service claims Fresno gets, on average, just a bit more than 10 inches of rain annually, and sometimes it’s even as little as three inches. Considering that, as well as the arid landscape of the San Joaquin Valley in the 21st century, it is hard to see how such a huge water body dominated the landscape. 

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Why Did the Lake Disappear?

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Experts in ethnology and environmental justice have some theories about why the lake started to shrink in the late 1850s and early 1860s. One prevalent one blames the state’s then government for being too greedy for indigenous lands. That desperate desire pushed them to bring historic Indigenous lands into the private sector, which spelled doom for the lake. 

The Draining

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The private sector is nothing if not skilled at making things happen. If fertile land is required, fertile land must be obtained. This is how they began a process called reclamation of land, which saw them drain wetlands and eventually the lake as they sought to irrigate desert lands to boost farming. 

The Year the Lake Disappeared

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The draining of the Tulare Lake continued for years; its waters pumped out in man’s attempt to play God by turning deserts into fertile farmlands. The water was used to keep the irrigation going to all the dry land around the area until the lake completely vanished around 1890. 

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The Lake Is Back

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Tulare Lake was gone for over a century, but it is back now, and with it, some side effects of it are filling up, including flooding. But the alternative is much worse. As it is, the lake’s return has brought a lot of life back to California, including different varieties of birds. Some have even claimed there are now burrowing owls nesting around the coast and they used to be a species tagged “vulnerable or at risk.”

Culture Is Back

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The Tachi Yokuts have also made their way back to Pa’ashi’s shores where they have taken to  practicing their ceremonies and planting tule reeds and native sage as they used to in the past. It could land them in trouble but none can resist the thrill of practicing their culture or the joy of the experience. 

Side Effects of the Lake’s Return

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For many years, residents of the Valley had to make do without the lake, and now that it is back, they will have to adjust to life with it once more. Already, some of the agricultural workers have endured heavy losses as a result of flooding, and talks of efforts to drain the lake are already in motion. 

The Lake Is Here To Stay

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While draining the lake will provide temporary relief, it won’t completely put an end to flooding. There have been river atmospheric events occurring in California. Add that to climate change, and you get a cocktail of powerful floods sure to happen more often, which means the lake may stay for years this time

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It Keeps Coming Back

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Reports have shown that the lake’s revival, which happened last year, is not the first time it is coming back. It once disappeared in the 80s, also in the 60s and several times in the 1930s. It is proof that even if it disappears again, Tulare Lake will return as it always does. 

An Imminent Exit

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It has not been a full year since Tulare Lake returned, but its surface area has already dropped to 2,625 acres. Authorities are expecting it to disappear any time from now, but rest assured that it will very likely be back. 

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