Ag giant, neighbors and authorities clash as Tulare Lake refills

Millions of acre feet of water are about to melt in the Southern Sierra Nevada. The water – trillions of gallons of it – will travel down the four rivers that feed into the Tulare Lake Basin, bringing flooding to the area that hasn’t been seen since the late ’90s.

In fact, the amount of water heading to Tulare Lake is unprecedented, with an historic snowpack approaching or exceeding 300% of average. No one in Kings County seems exactly sure what to do with it. As the crisis looms, the fighting and finger-pointing are turning ugly.


Boswell Says It Knows Best

Tensions came to a head at an emergency meeting of the Kings County Board of Supervisors held Saturday, March 18. It was the third emergency meeting in as many days, but this one was different. It was held at the request of representatives of the JG Boswell Company, one of the largest landowners in Kings County, who wanted to convince authorities they know how to direct the inundating waters most effectively.

“In 98 years, the county supervisors have never got involved in telling the Boswell company or Corcoran where to put flood water,” George Wurzel, president and COO for Boswell. “The county or the supervisors have never ever come down to poke a hole in a levee. We’ve always done that on our own.”

At the previous meeting on March 17, the supervisors ordered the public works department to make a cut in one of Boswell’s levees on the south end of Reclamation District 746. The cut was needed, they said, to prevent flooding in other areas of higher elevation. RD 746 contains the lowest point of the lake basin.

The order, which was eventually carried out, came after Boswell voluntarily flooded other areas of the lake bed to the south.

“That would be JG Boswell company farmland that was prepped to plant and to be put to good use,” said Dominic Sween, an engineer for Boswell. “We preemptively decided to cut our first levee right between the Cross Creek at the Tule River canal, and we thought that that was the first step that we needed to take to relieve pressure in the system. It’s one of the lower levees in the area, and we decided that was the first step that we needed to take to relieve pressure in the water system.”

Historically, RD 746 has been the first area of the basin to be intentionally flooded because of its depth. The move to delay flooding there has been met with enormous criticism, and filling those areas – the El Rico and Cousins portions of the lake bottom – led to flooding of adjacent property not owned by Boswell. Boswell’s neighbors said it was done intentionally to protect the farming giant’s cropland and business offices at the expense of others.


Saving Corcoran a Priority

Richard Valle, chair of the Kings Supervisors and a resident of Corcoran, said the county’s main concern is keeping the town from flooding.

“That information led the board to make a decision yesterday (March 17), that as we were being told the biggest threat to Kings County is to the city of Corcoran and the residents that live there, and we believe from the information that from public and closed session we made the best decision in the interests of Corcoran and obviously to save the city of Corcoran,” Valle said, referring to the call to cut the levee on the south end of RD 746.

Earlier in the March 18 meeting, Sween said filling RD 746 would have put property in Corcoran at risk, but later recanted, admitting flooding that area presented no immediate threat to the city. Sween asserted filling the outlying areas of the lake basin would allow more water to be stored in total, an assertion rancher Erik Hansen called “ridiculous.”

Cutting into RD 749, said Hansen, would have given those living and farming in now flooded areas more time to react. Hansen Ranches farms the area east of RD 746, and the property has been inundated. The flooding was the result of actions by Boswell’s employees.

“Some people would have time to protect residences and permanent crops in an area that’s never been flooded before,” he said.

Hansen said other water experts contradict Sween’s assertions, arguing a bucket can’t be filled from its top down.

“Our people that we know, that are experts, that are afraid to be here today for obvious reasons, they dispute that,” Hansen said. “They would have never flooded that area. It doesn’t hold much water.”

Wurzel defended his company’s actions, saying no one had “cared more” about Corcoran than the Boswell family. He cited the large amounts of money the company has poured into the town. Many of its employees live in Corcoran, he said, and much of the company’s inventory and infrastructure is kept there.

If Boswell representatives were highly concerned with protecting Corcoran, wondered Supervisor Valle, why weren’t they in contact with city officials.

“You’re saying you guys are doing a lot of work to save the city of Corcoran, to save the prisons, but you’re not communicating with them,” Valle told Wurzel. “You’re not communicating with the city manager. You’re not communicating with the prisons, and we know that because even on Monday (March 13), the prison was in a panic mode and was holding meetings to try to build their own what they called a super levee.”

Wurzel said the administration at Corcoran State Prison has not returned his calls. He did not comment on a lack of communication with Corcoran City Hall.


Neighbors Say Boswell Flooded Them Intentionally

The area containing most of Hansen Ranches’ property is south of Corcoran and east of the two areas first flooded by Boswell, the El Rico and Cousins areas. In the map Sween presented to the supervisors, the area is labeled as the Southeast Lake. Southeast Lake, Phil Hansen said, doesn’t exist.

“That Southeast Lake area right there, that’s made up. There’s no such thing,” he said. “That’s something they (Boswell) made up. That area has never been in the lakebottom. It’s never flooded before.”

Had RD 749 been the first area filled, the flooding in the so-called Southeast Lake could have been avoided or at least delayed to give extra time for mitigation measures. Hansen said the Boswell management intentionally left their own land dry at the expense of neighbors.

“They (JG Boswell employees) premeditated letting that El Rico area (flood),” Hansen said. “They knew that it doesn’t hold very much water.”

Erik Hansen, Phil Hansen’s brother and business partner, also alleged intentional wrongdoing on Boswell’s part.

“It was premeditated. They created this like they wanted it,” he said. “They flooded that area first. They knew it wouldn’t hold water. They knew it’d break on us, and that’s that’s our problem.”


Boswell President Defends Company’s Actions

Boswell president Wurzel said his company and employees didn’t do anything the Hansens knew might happen. He said the Hansens even turned to him for help when the water began to rise around their property.

“March 8th, I got five calls from Erik Hansen looking for a place to move stuff. It’s not like we blindsided them. I don’t call Philip and Erik and tell them when diesel prices drop. I don’t tell them when cotton prices go up. I don’t tell them what equipment to buy.”

Wurzel said the Hansens had access to the same information he had, and therefore should have anticipated Boswell’s actions.

“We sit on the same boards together. Philip (Hansen) and I sit on the Tulare Lake Bed (Drainage District). We get all the same information at the meetings,” Wurzel said. “It’s not like they got blindsided by this. They knew it was a threat.”

In response, Erik Hansen said his company farms 640 acres in RD 749 that would have flooded, but they were willing to sacrifice it to save the so-called Southeast Lake area. He expressed disillusionment at Wurzel’s every-man-for-himself attitude. Wurzel, he said, never let slip at any meeting they attended together that Boswell Company had created the Southeast Lake.

“The disappointing part also is that, like George said, we’re on a lot of boards together. We’re on reclamation districts together,” Erik Hansen said. “We’re supposed to be fighting that area on the Gage-Jones (Canal) together. Never did it come up that they created this new Southeast Lake, which is our property.”


Boswell Allegedly Knew Neighbors Would Flood

Because RD 749 wasn’t opened earlier, flooding began prematurely in the Southeast Lake, Phil Hansen said. Further, Boswell’s flooding of the El Rico and Cousins areas led to flooding on the Hansen Ranches, and Boswell officials knew it would happen.

“So that area is already breaking on the Tule and on the other side of the El Rico, which was their (Boswell’s) goal premeditated, and they kept it very hush-hush,” Phil Hansen said. “That was their goal, so it’s very obvious to us now what the goal is.”

Phil Hansen met with Boswell personnel on Friday, March 17, and was told how Boswell intended to proceed.

“Immediately after meeting with Boswell officials yesterday … I went and I met with another expert and someone who worked the last two floods, and I didn’t tell that gentleman what Boswell said. I just asked my questions based on what Boswell just presented to me,” he said. “In almost every question that I asked, his answer was opposite of what I was told by Boswell. One of them was should the 749 historically flood first? Should it go first? His answer was yes. Areas way west of that have even gone before the 749, and those areas are not taking any water yet either.”

Erik Hansen described the fallout from not opening RD 749.

“Water poured over the top of 10th Avenue into the Gates-Jones (Canal). That’s never happened before in history,” he said. “That was forced to happen because they (Boswell) didn’t cut the 749. That forced that levee to breach.”


Boswell Plants Tomatoes, Attacks the Media

During his declaration his company’s actions had not “blindsided” the Hansens, Boswell’s president made a comment that likely left most listeners wondering at his reference. While saying the Hansens should have foreseen the threat to their business and homes, he also included the name of veteran reporter Lois Henry, editor of San Joaquin Valley Water, a news outlet dedicated to reporting the state’s water issues.

“Hell, even Lois Henry knows it’s a threat,” Wurzel said. “It’s not a mystery.”

The comment seemed to call into question Henry’s knowledge of the water issues on which she reports regularly and at length. In her own reporting on Wurzel’s remark, Henry wrote that the comment was likely in reference to her frequent reporting on land subsidence caused by the Boswell Company and other eastside growers drawing down the underground aquifer.

On March 31, Henry reported that Boswell Company planted “hundreds of acres” of tomatoes in an area they kept free of water by funneling flows from the South Fork of the Kings River into the Tule River Canal. A small dam has also been constructed to slow the Kings.

According to Henry’s article, the Tule River Canal is now running high near the town of Stratford because of the damming.

The area planted in tomatoes is near Utica Avenue in the southern reaches of the Tulare Lake Basin, Henry reported. Her reporting included a photograph of the newly planted tomatoes.

According to Henry, Kings County Supervisor Doug Verboon sees Boswell’s behavior as duplicitous.

“This just demonstrates that they had other intentions,” he said of the scenario Boswell officials described at the March 18 supervisors meeting.

Henry’s reporting highlights a growing distrust of Boswell by county officials.

“I thought we could work together (with Boswell) and limit damages to the community, but I don’t believe that’s true now,” Verboon said, according to Henry’s report. “Now, I’m worried about June and July with the snow melt coming … we don’t need the lake bottom fighting us.”


Boswell Calls the Cops

When Henry attempted to contact Boswell vice president Jeof Wyrick for comments about the newly-planted field of fruit. Wyrick didn’t call back. The cops did.

“Instead, a sergeant with the Kings County Sheriff’s Office called SJV Water to say it had received a call from Boswell and the company didn’t want anyone on its land,” Henry wrote.

Kings County Sheriff Dave Robinson said Boswell regularly calls because of trespassers on its land, and the call to Henry was routine. However, he admitted it was unusual for a specific person to be named in such a complaint.

California law protects journalists from this kind of harassment. Specifically, California Penal Code 409.5 assures news outlets have access to disaster areas regardless of ownership.

This wasn’t the only threat of use of law enforcement as the Tulare Lake floods.

In another report from Henry, Jack Mitchell, head of the Deer Creek Storm Water District, said he was threatened twice with arrest if he attempted to alleviate possible flooding in the towns of Allensworth and Alpaugh by cutting into the nearby Homeland Canal. Boswell company placed a piece of heavy equipment on the banks of the Homeland Canal to prevent access. Moving it would end in his arrest, Mitchell told Henry.

Meanwhile, someone cut an intentional breach in Deer Creek where it crosses Road 88, and the tracks of the heavy equipment used to make it led to an equipment yard in Earlimart.


Trouble North of Highway 198

The Tulare Lake isn’t the only area of Kings County where flooding had ranchers and growers scrambling to stay above water.

On Grangeville Boulevard where Cross Creek crosses, dairy owners took matters into their own hands to prevent disaster, building a levee to redirect water south.

“If we didn’t levee up there, that water was going to go and take out two dairies, fill up, and still end up in the Highline (Canal),” said dairyman Joe Mendes. “It’s just going to go farther south and go in, in a different spot, so if we hadn’t done that, we would save them, what, another day worth of water or whatever depending on how much overflow (went) that way? So it’s kind of take it now or take it later. But why screw us up if we don’t have to?”

He was addressing Kings County Supervisors during their emergency meeting on March 17.

Sheriff Robinson described several breaches in that area, including “unnatural” ones. They were repaired by county crews.

According to Joseph Faulkner, public works director for Corcoran and director on the board of the Cross Creek Flood Control District, Cross Creek splits at Nevada Avenue into east and west channels. Most of the water is currently heading west.

“There’s a small levee that protects the east and west channel, (and) there are some talks about breaking that channel to let more of the water come east,” Faulkner said. “If that happens it could have catastrophic implications on the city of Corcoran.”

Because of that threat, Faulkner said an armed guard now patrols the levee.

The situation north of 198, as described by rancher Roger Dutra, also highlights the loss of flood mitigation expertise at the county. Dutra farms land in the Cross Creek floodplain, and described the Bureau of Reclamation drawing up a flood mitigation plan in the 1980s that included permanent cuts on Cross Creek.

“And the county was going to check and make sure that they stayed open,” Dutra said. “Well, two of them up above us, which would be, you know, for three or four miles farther up, which would help not get so much water down here so fast, are closed.”

That brought a comment from Supervisor Verboon demonstrating how desperate the county is to find direction.Verboon asked Dutra to show county officials where the permanent cuts should be restored.

“We’ve lost a lot of knowledge over the years with people retiring and passing away, so we have a pretty new board,” he said. “We don’t know all the history.”

52 thoughts on “Ag giant, neighbors and authorities clash as Tulare Lake refills

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  1. As a First Nation citizen Water is Life. In your world the “chickens have indeed come home to roost” Coruption upon corruption Since this is stolen land anyway the water herself is reclaiming her own natural ĺseat of authority given by the Creator. Water gentlemen always finds her way home

  2. Eminent domain… the government should relocate Boswell for the good of the state water supply. Tulare is a vital recharge site for the aquifers, and the Boswell Corp has caused significant damage over the past century to California’s water supply.

    • Absolutely Boswell should be relocated and made to stop it’s disastrous pumping and depleting the aquifer…common sense!

  3. The silver lining here is the Kings and Tule river waters won’t be diverted and dumped in the ocean by the State. This is the answer to the State’s water infrastructure and storage crisis. I feel for the current property owners… but it is a Lake bed. Nature is taking it back.

    • Most of the Kings River flood release is diverted north into the San Joaquin at Mendota to flow out to sea,only after 4,750 cfs is released to the San Joaquin the next 3,200 cfs is sent to Tulare Lake.

      • Not right now Millerton is filling the San Joaquin River. None of the Kings is going north. From last I read.

  4. Just another insance of the corrupt Commiefornia liberals not having any foresight and pandering to large corporate interests over the needs of smaller individuals. As long as they keep voting for all these braindead liberals Commiefornia will always be the land of unintended consequences. I’d love to see the whole southern part of the state underwater to wash away all of the idiots.

    • You mean Republicans are pandering to large corporate interests; get a clue, everyone in that area (especially farmers/big corporations) sadly vote GOP.

      • Sorry Gilda. The vast majority of Californians vote for demoncrats. That’s why your state is so messed up.

        • You obviously have no clue about California politics. The central valley, which is what this story is about, votes very red. Look at congressional members from this arra they are almost all Republicans. The state may be blue but not this part. And water districts are almost entirely run by Republicans.

          • It seems to me that politicians of every stripe always have their headquarters in some corporation’s hindquarters, so they can accept more bribes and perks. The corporations need to be reined in and sanctioned SEVERELY for plundering our health and welfare.

    • And, your solution?

      (Spoon-fed rhetoric reflects ignorance & is completely unproductive. 👎👎)

  5. We live in a different time. Social media and technology have lifted the veil on this corruption that his been happening for decades. The optics are greed and selfishness and total disregard for environment and people. Not gonna fly anymore Boswell. Hope you have other career plans if your check is signed by Boswell. 🙏🏼

  6. I think JG Boswell should abandon the area, and return the area not only to the Yokut tribe they, orher settlers, and the government of California stole the lands from illegally, and murdered tribal members in 1858 and 1859 by Ethic Cleansing, but be forced to pay for damages to the California ecosystem they helped destroy by intentionally drying up Tulare Lake as well as pay for the damages to people who are now loosing homes in the area in full. The lake and it’s lands belong to the Yokut tribes, not JG Boswell or the State of California. It is stolen native lands and that is publicly documented.

    • CHRIS.. They’re Republicans pandering to Boswell not liberals. I agree. Wash away all the idiots (Republicans)

  7. CHRIS.. They’re Republicans pandering to Boswell not liberals. I agree. Wash away all the idiots (Republicans)

  8. Folks, you don’t seem to get that you need to work TOGETHER, especially in times of crisis. Not as Democrats or Republicans but simply as people who have a common issue. Why is this so hard?

    The flood will come and you’ll still be fighting over how to build the ark.

    Your situation is a snapshot of what’s wrong with the entire country. I fear we’re running out of opportunities to get things right, so, please, get this one right and maybe we’ll all start pulling together in the right direction.

    • One mistaken misguided concept is ” working together” It assumes that there is integrity present in the bargaining THERE IS NOT. ONE can’t cherrypick their way through CORRUPTION and come out on the other end uncontaminated CLEAN BOTH PARTIES MUST BE CLEAN TO “WORK TOGETHER”. It doesn’t exist here. Remember it’s STILL STOLEN LAND a corruption centuries old

  9. Family farming since 1889 in ca.situation needs hydro engineers/army corp. to rectify issues. Then establish plan moving forward. There’s no winners now as there’s no true experts

    • Sorry ,The Army Corp. That’s been working on the Pajaro levees for what 60 years lol , no government plans please lol

  10. It’s quite obvious there was no planning, no protocol for the “big one”. Therefore, the consequences are predictable- starts with infighting – then mistrust and chaos. The only truth is excess waters, with all its force will seek the low point- with its resultant consequences for those affected.
    So now ,we know there is a possibility of more flood flows- more communication is essential- it is not rocket science- estimates of high, medium and low flood flows can be calculated- and needs to be shared by ALL those affected- and develop a protocol to accept and manage those flows the best we can

  11. When the crisis is big enough, there are no options except working together, politics be damned. If politics, a.k.a, corruption, lack of integrity, is still allowed to be an issue, then the crisis isn’t big enough. It’s up to the affected parties to put aside politics and DO what needs to be done.

    I won’t bother to address the stolen land issue. That goes all the way back to 1619, actually, all the way back to the Neanderthal days.

    The big picture is:

    If we don’t find a way stop the finger pointing, to stop hating the “other side”, I.e., our own countrymen(persons), China will provide “their” solutions to “our” problems of working together. It’s coming, but I pray not in my lifetime.

    Please let science provide a solution. I pray for all of you.

  12. I saw one where they were blaming it on everyone but The Lord. Ya put a town in a lake bottom or farms ya gotta expect this. Had happened before and nothing was done yet people stayed. Once more and they all pass the insanity test. Already do in my book. God Bless All but shouldn’t tempt fate. Your in a lake with all the drainage going to that lake. Duh.

  13. Remember when President Trump signed paperwork for more water storage in the Valley and was turned on by Newsom and Valadao. Years of asking for permission and not receiving it is being revealed 2023.

      • Water never runs up hill ..try to remember the 1861 – 62 floods for reference.. answer. …Water storage at low areas like the real PRESIDENT OF THE United States TRUMP wanted to do .

  14. Let’s see, we have the Cali Commies, eco-liberals, land grabbing State & Federal politicos of both Dem’s & Republicans, native Yokuts, local politicos, water boards, flood control experts, ranchers, dairy men, Corporate & Family farmers , citizens who stand to see their life long home investment underwater and a couple of astute citizens who are looking at the atmospheric rivers and blessed snowpack in the Sierra’s with the proper perspective;
    a ” silver lining” to all the above falderall….It’s the great Tule Lake, nature is claiming it back for a short time to, in the end, recharge our precious groundwater aquifers and not let the fools “in charge” flush it into the Pacific, which as Farms I know has plenty of H2O to spare.
    Let’s rejoice in the gift, put it to what good use we can and to make corrections where we can agree to mitigate the “damage from future such gifts from God.
    OK, OK, I admit I’m not called Pollyanna for nothing. Keep our eyes on the “glad verses”.

  15. Currently living in Las Vegas, NV. And I’m happy that Tulare and Owen’ Lakes are returning to their old glory. Californians should be more concern about preserving these lakes. WHY, you may ask? Lake Mead, in about 2 years will reach dead pool status. When that happens, then the state of California will be cut off from the Great Colorado River. And everyone from Bakersfield to Fresno will feel it!

    • We need to quit farming the lake bottom and allow the rivers to flow to the lake every year! Cut all of Boswells levies to where the water flows to the lowest point and fills the lake! Corporate greed is destroying the Tulare lake basin area!

  16. Restore Tulare Lake! California needs the water storage, especially the aquifers. Unfortunately, the corruption in California Democrat super majority politics will never let this happen, especially with governor Brain Dead Newsom at the helm, who’s constantly out of state rather than dealing with critical urgent issues like this to which he was elected by morons.

  17. It would be great to see the ducks in the geese come back even if the lake comes back ….. that would just be the first Domino ….we are the greatest farming community in the world ……..we’ll find a solution

  18. White farmers crying foul, right? What happened to all the Black farmers? Pushed out! Their Farms denied federal subsidies by feds given to white farmers. Allensworth was historically the first Black town founded by African Americans in California now it’s majority Hispanic. Who no doubt provide farm work labor to the white farmers. Always a racial / under class component to White expansion in any area. Don’t feel sorry for them. They created the situation so, “deal with it”!

  19. This is a great article. I’ve watched & shared several videos on YouTube about the disappearing Tulare Lake.
    Not many know about it & are shocked that the Yokuts were forced out due to a farmer from Georgia as the video states. Yes, Mother Nature is coming back but it’s unfortunate that that’s being manipulated by JG Boswell at the sacrifice of the Hansen family.

    To the JG Boswell team, Teamwork makes the dream work. You need to make that family whole.

  20. CORRECTION! This is how the Black farmers in Allensworth were destroyed!

    Water access was another hindrance to the town’s potential. Cooper said white farmers dammed the river and diverted the water, leaving Allensworth’s Black farmers high and dry. Eventually, the town’s residents started to move away.Sep 2, 2021

  21. Absolutely Boswell should be relocated and made to stop it’s disastrous pumping and depleting the aquifer…common sense!

  22. Water never runs up hill ..try to remember the 1861 – 62 floods for reference.. answer. …Water storage at low areas like the real PRESIDENT OF THE United States TRUMP wanted to do .

  23. The problem with the Tulare lakebed, if you dig deep enough you’ll find clay. Clay prevents water absorption, so you lose more water to evaporation.

  24. I’m currently writing my Thesis on Tulare Lake and the Yokut Tribes who lived around it. This is fascinating to watch unfold. I have no sympathy for Boswell, they lobbied for the construction of projects to drain Tulare Lake. In recent years, Boswell Corp also pumped out enough ground water to make the ground sink by a foot in the first year alone. If anyone wants the full story, I highly recommend Mark Arax and Rick Waltzman’s book “J.G Boswell: King of California.”

  25. So how many employees does Boswell have? you all are ok throwing them under the bus? Remember, every acttion has a reaction.

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