The largest body of water west of the Mississippi disappeared 130 years ago — now it’s back

The San Joaquin Valley of California, despite supplying a significant percentage of the country’s food, is nevertheless a dry, arid place. Fresno, at the heart of the valley, receives just over 10 inches of rain a year on average, according to the National Weather Service, and sometimes as little as 3.

And yet, until the late 19th century, the San Joaquin Valley held a lake over 100 miles long and over 30 miles wide.

Tulare Lake “was the largest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi River. It’s really difficult to imagine that now,” says Vivian Underhill, formerly a postdoctoral research fellow at Northeastern University with the Social Science and Environmental Health Research Institute.

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Photo from AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Marine and Environmental Sciences