You are hereUsing Tulare Lake for Water Storage

Using Tulare Lake for Water Storage

Lewis Griswold published a column in the Fresno Bee outlining a proposal using the Tulare Lake area for water storage instead of the Temperance Flat Dam.

The San Joaquin Valley Leadership Forum has published a plan to use the Tulare Lake Basin for water storage. Read all about it here:

The text of the Fresno Bee column by Lewis Griswold is here:

Filling now-dry Tulare Lake with water would be better for water management than building a dam on the San Joaquin River at Temperance Flat, an environmentalist told the Tulare County Water Commission at a recent public meeting.

Water engineers rolled their eyes, then promptly trashed the idea.

"Not much can be accomplished by using Tulare Lake as a reservoir," said Dick Schafer, a consulting engineer and commissioner.

They've heard it before: Put water into the Tulare Lake bed in southwest Tulare County.

Historically, a freshwater lake was there, but the water going into the lake got diverted for farming until the lake all but went dry. The lake bottom is now farmed.

Environmentalists have favored restoring the lake as a wetland for wildlife. Twenty years ago, their bumper sticker read: "Save Tulare Lake -- Flood It!"

The new twist is to use the lakebed as a reservoir, and pump out the water when it's needed to where it's needed. Which means no need for a dam on a river.

Steve Haze of Auberry, who once ran for Congress, posted a 10-page "concept proposal" at Filling 10% of the historic Tulare Lake and using it as a reservoir and for underground water storage would cost $1 billion, according to Haze, compared to $5 billion for Temperance Flat.

He said a state grant helped pay for his study.

A Temperance Flat dam would indeed be costly, said Dennis Keller of Visalia, a water consulting engineer and member of the Tulare County Water Commission, which meets monthly to discuss local water issues such as nitrate contamination of groundwater.

Restoring Tulare Lake might be an environmentalist's dream, but from his point of view as an engineer, using Tulare Lake as a reservoir would be "a nightmare," Keller said.

The water would pool at the lowest point in the Valley, and it would have to be pumped uphill, he said. That means using pumps, and losing the advantage of gravity.

But Haze said pumps already are there to move water around for farming. Pumping water out of the lake so water rights holders could use it would mean going uphill only 75 feet and tying into existing canals like the California Aqueduct. By comparison, Aqueduct water is now pumped 3,000 feet uphill out of the Valley to get it to Los Angeles, he noted.

Keller said a revived Tulare Lake would be wide and shallow, and would evaporate too much water. Furthermore, the acidity of the water would get too high, even hazardous. That has happened before when there has been water in the lake. Also, algae would grow and cause problems for pumping.

But Haze said the some of the water would be in the underground aquifer and would not evaporate, and the technical details would have to be worked out by engineers.

"There aren't any engineers saying this is the kind of project you'd want to have out there," Keller said.
Lewis Griswold covers the news of Tulare and Kings counties for The Bee. His column appears on Friday and Sunday. He can be reached at or (559) 622-2416.

Published online on Saturday, May. 02, 2009

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