Images from NASA’s Earth Observatory show how the once-extinct Tulare Lake in California is roaring back to life thanks to the historic wet and snowy winter, KTLA sister station KGET/KSEE reports.
Tulare Lake located in the San Joaquin Valley was once the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River. By the 1920s, the rivers that fed the lake were dammed and diverted for uses such as irrigation. Since then, the lakebed has been covered by farms that grow a variety of crops.
Heavy rain and snow in the first three months of 2023 have once again brought water to the Tulare lakebed.
This image on the left was acquired by NASA’s Operational Land Manager (OLI) on March 18, 2022, and it shows agricultural fields near Corcoran covered with water. The satellite image on the right is of the same area on March 29, 2023.
NASA officials say the image is false color, which makes the water (dark blue) stand out from its surroundings. Vegetation is green and bare ground is brown.
With a population of 22,000 people, Corcoran is the largest city in the vicinity of the historic lake. Many homes in the city have been flooded and several roads have been closed. Smaller towns to the south like Allensworth and Alpaugh were surrounded by water from overflowing rivers.
The images above show a wider view of the Tulare lakebed and show the progression of flooding between March 2 and April 1.
Two of the 14 atmospheric rivers hit California in March 2023 contributing to flooding along the San Joaquin River and a breach of the Los Angeles Aqueduct.
“The basin is a powerhouse for agricultural production and the impact of the flooding is going to be prolonged,” said Safeeq Khan, agricultural engineer and adjunct professor in civil and environmental engineering at UC Merced. “The four counties within the basin—Fresno, Kern, Kings, and Tulare—are some of the top-producing counties in the state.”
As of 2022, the lakebed contained farms that produced cotton, tomatoes, dairy, safflower, pistachios, wheat, and almonds. California Department of Water Resources (DWR) experts have warned that the size and distribution of this year’s snowpack is posing severe flood risk to some areas of the state – especially in the San Joaquin Valley.