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Can the zombie lake in California, which was turned into a farmland, now become water once again after a year?
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Can the zombie lake in California, which was turned into a farmland, now become water once again after a year?

Last year, it was challenging to travel through a significant area of central California without encountering the recently formed lakeshore of a previously inactive body of water.

Revived after many years due to an immense amount of winter precipitation, the lake expanded to over 100,000 acres in the spring, spanning across fields of cotton, tomato, and pistachio, as well as numerous roads.

The body of water known as Tulare Lake, also called Pa’ashi by the Tachi Yokut Tribe, had returned.

The view was breathtaking. Tulare Lake used to be the biggest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi until it was depleted for farming in the 1800s. Though it has resurfaced during other wet weather periods, it has not been at this magnitude in over four decades.

After it was reformed, there was a sudden increase in visitors and media attention. Experts and authorities believed that the lake would last for a long time, causing concern among nearby farmers whose property was now flooded, but also creating enthusiasm among those who viewed the lake as a thriving natural habitat and a holy place.

However, until now, those worries and aspirations have not materialized as originally anticipated. Despite initial forecasts, a small and unpaved street in Kings County, the agricultural center of California, reveals patches of grass and dense soil, but no trace of the expected body of water. Contrary to expectations, the lake has practically disappeared.

The Kings county office of emergency services reports that Tulare Lake has shrunk to only 2,625 acres. Abraham Valencia, who works with the office of emergency services, anticipates that the lake will soon vanish unless there is unexpected flooding from snowmelt upstream. Nate Ferrier, from the county sheriff’s office, stated to a local news source that the lake used to cover private property but now some farmers are able to resume their activities.

Ferrier stated that tractors and trucks are in motion to prepare fields for the upcoming crop season.


The majority of people living in California were only familiar with Tulare Lake through written records. In the past, this large body of water was filled with turtles and beavers and was enclosed by tule reeds, but now it has been replaced with endless plantations of nut trees, Pima cotton, and safflowers.

It has resurfaced several times in the last hundred years, most notably in 1998 and during the previous winter. This winter, consecutive atmospheric river storms hit the state between December and March, causing water to flood a typically arid terrain and submerge numerous acres of farmland. The surrounding towns were under threat for a period of time, leading to the evacuation of thousands of cows, as well as the closure of roads and power outages.

Although the flood caused difficulties for farmers and local workers, it fascinated numerous individuals. Tourists eagerly sought out new vantage points and disregarded road closures by using drones, despite authorities cautioning them to avoid the water due to the presence of farm equipment, animal waste, and chemicals.

As far as their eyes could see, the landscape before them was filled with shades of blue. The area was teeming with wildlife, as fish glided through the water near sunken fence poles and birds fluttered near the shore.

Rows of trees submerged in water

Switch to fullscreen mode for a clearer view of the image.

According to Vivian Underhill, an expert in environmental justice, the road suddenly ends while driving and goes under the water. She describes the sight of nut trees submerged in water and ducks swimming under the shade of almond trees. The area is also abundant with blackbirds, hawks, geese, and the sound of fish jumping out of the water can be heard.

During the previous summer, the lake spanned approximately the size of Lake Tahoe and had a depth of 5 to 7ft. This re-appearance held great significance for the Tachi, as the lake held importance to their predecessors until settlers displaced the tribe and depleted it in order to cultivate crops. According to their traditional beliefs, the Tachi originated from the sediment at the bottom of the lake, as shared by Underhill.

According to the Los Angeles Times, members of the tribe have been told stories about the lake that used to provide for the Tachi community being taken away from them. They had desired for the lake to remain intact instead of being drained for agricultural use as it had been previously.

Leo Sisco, the chairman of the Santa Rosa Rancheria Tachi Yokut Tribe, expressed his joy at the return of the lake, stating that it fills him with a sense of pride to be able to witness it in his lifetime. He also mentioned how happy he is that his daughters and grandson will also have the opportunity to experience the lake and the stories they heard of as children.

In recent times, the number of enthusiastic tourists has decreased and it has become increasingly difficult to find the shoreline. During a recent trip through the central valley, I made an effort to see what remains of it.

Near the end of February, on a bright day, nearly 12 months after its arrival, the signs marking road closures were still present throughout the county as a prominent reminder of the lake. These signs prevented access to large portions of the muddy roads that lead to farms and other agricultural areas.

The remains of Tulare Lake are situated solely on privately owned property, far beyond the public’s reach. It has significantly diminished in size due to local groups transferring water from the lake to nearby agricultural areas. Evaporation has also been a significant contributing factor.

Car submerged underwaterView image in fullscreen

The power company for the region, Pacific Gas and Electric, took on a large task to recover its submerged equipment from the lake from last year. They even used helicopters and dive teams in certain instances. According to Denny Boyles, a spokesperson for the company, they have started to gradually restore services to their primarily agricultural customers in the area.

The return of the issue is believed to have resulted in damages amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars for the agricultural sector in the region. Local authorities have shown appreciation that certain farmers are able to get back to work.

“Farming is crucial for Kings County, serving as the primary source of livelihood. This industry accounts for a quarter of all jobs in the county, making it one of our top commodities,” stated Ferrier.

However, we can expect to hear about Tulare Lake again in the future. According to Jay Lund, a professor at University of California, Davis, the effects of the climate crisis on wet and dry conditions in California will bring the lake back during wetter years. He shared this in a written statement last year.

Underhill stated that keeping the lake intact could have advantages such as replenishing the declining groundwater and enhancing the local wildlife. The water source for the lake, situated mainly on land owned by the agricultural corporation JG Boswell Company, has been greatly reduced, resulting in the land sinking in the surrounding region.

According to Underhill, any efforts to alter this area into something other than a dried-up lake will eventually be challenged by the forces of floodwater. It is in our best interest to leave it as it is, as the water is clearly meant to flow there and will continue to do so.

She mentioned that the lake is the inherent condition of this region.

The ecosystem was abundant and full of life. This shows how the birds and fish eagerly anticipate the lake’s reappearance. As soon as it returns, they are prepared to join in and thrive in the environment.

Source: theguardian.com