The recent siege of powerful storms in California driven by a series of atmospheric rivers has had a significant effect on the severe drought that has plagued most of the state for many years. Many of the state’s reservoirs are at the highest level they have been for decades. The snowpack in the Sierras is well over 200% of its historical average. Many parts of the state are no longer considered to be in drought conditions, and, in fact, flooding has been a serious problem in some areas. This flooding has had some surprising results.
Two California lakes that drained a century ago have reappeared as a result of floodwaters from the recent storms.
Tulare Lake, in California’s Central Valley used to be fed by rain and snowmelt from the Sierras. A system of dams and canals constructed in the early 20th century to support regional agriculture diverted water away from the lake. It used to be the largest freshwater lake in the West but farmers ultimate planted crops in the dried lakebed.
The atmospheric river events in March inundated that farmland and once again there is water in Tulare Lake.
Owens Lake, on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, was long fed by mountain streams. The 1913 construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct redirected water to that city and desiccated the lake. Floodwaters in March caused a partial collapse of the aqueduct and when the spill gates on the aqueduct were opened to drain the damaged areas, floodwaters poured in and partially refilled the lake.
California has suffered from drought for many years. With its massive snowpack, as the weather warms, the state may face even more flooding.
Two Long-Drained California Lakes Refilled by Floodwaters, Satellite Images Show
Photo, posted November 10, 2014, courtesy of CN via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio