The Tulare Basin occupies the southern portion of California's Great Central Valley. Prior to the late 19th Century, the basin contained several lakes and a vast wetland, home to a fabulous diversity of wildlife and a magnet for massive flocks of migrant waterfowl.
The largest of the basin lakes was Tulare Lake, once the largest American freshwater lake west of the Great Lakes. Fed by four rivers that drain the west flank of the southern Sierra Nevada Range (the Kings, Kaweah, Tule and Kern Rivers, north to south), the depth and surface area of Tulare Lake varied throughout the year, receiving maximum inflows during the spring snowmelt.
Unfortunately, in the 1880s, sections of the basin marsh were drained for agriculture and, soon thereafter, the above rivers were dammed and diverted for irrigation purposes. By the early 20th Century, Tulare Lake had become a dry bed, filling only during years of heavy snowmelt (i.e. when the levees and canals cannot handle the runoff). In the end, Tulare Lake has become yet another symbol of man's impact on natural ecosystems, exacerbated by our relentless population growth and our ever-increasing demand for agricultural products (much of which we waste).