Tulare Lake
Growing Tulare Lake cuts off 6th Avenue south of Corcoran in Kings County. Courtesy DWR

Tulare Lake has re-emerged in the Central Valley after a historically wet winter, growing in size to rival Lake Tahoe and forcing state officials to take steps to prevent widespread flooding.

On Monday the Department of Water Resources announced that water from the Kern River was being diverted into the California Aqueduct to reduce the flow into the Tulare basin.

“There are multiple concurrent efforts under way … to move water around to ultimately protect communities in the Central Valley,” said Brian Ferguson, a spokesperson for the California Office of Emergency Services. “We are in significantly better shape than we were several weeks ago.”

DWR officials said the lake is now 160 square miles in size and could grow to over 200 square miles by July in a worst case.

Officials have amassed 2 million sandbags, and are fixing levees, distributing large pumps and collecting emergency supplies in case evacuations are necessary.

The state is also seizing opportunities to recharge depleted groundwater basins, pumping water over recently fallowed farmland.

Much of the area already submerged by the lake is farmland that in most years is high and dry. But a century ago the area was the largest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi River.

While Ferguson expressed optimism at a press briefing, he cautioned that “we don’t know what we don’t know yet in terms of how fast the water comes down the mountain.”

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.