KINGS COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- A home movie from 1942 captured the return of Tulare Lake when it was revived by heavy runoff from the Sierra.
At the time, the lake remained at about a quarter of its original size for a few years after being dry for decades.
A 1876 map of Tulare County shows a vast lake nearly a thousand square miles in size.
During that time frame, the lake was the largest body of fresh water in the western United States.
If the lake was still here, Kettleman City and Lemoore would be lakefront communities, the town of Alpaugh would be on an island, and Corcoran would be underwater.
So, what happened to the lake?
"The shortest way to describe is that as we began irrigating and using river water to grow crops. That same river water that used to fill the lake no longer reached the lake. So the lake really was dried up by irrigated agriculture," explained Rob Hansen, a professor of biology at College of Sequoias at the time of this interview in 2006.
The effort to keep the lakebed dry intensified after World War II.
Massive levees were built to keep the waters of the kings, Tule, Kaweah, and Kern rivers from re-filling the lake so cotton and other crops could be grown.
The Army Corps of Engineers and local irrigation districts began working to keep that crop from being flooded.
Editor's Note: The video featured in the above player first aired in an Action News broadcast on May 16, 2006.
It's very much a challenge and its good water management and the flood control facilities are all put to work together in order to minimize disruption economically to the farming area.
One way to keep water out during flood years is to divert it north to the San Joaquin River.
When heavy runoff caused flooding along the San Joaquin in 2006, politicians made loud calls to let the water flow back into Tulare Lake where it belongs.
"And I can tell you ladies and gentlemen, if 7,000 homes and businesses go under water in Firebaugh to protect 100,000 acres of crops in the Tulare Lake Basin, you ain't seen nothing yet," said former Fresno County Supervisor Phil Larson in 2006.
Some in the environmental community also raised concerns about this un-natural diversion.
As it turned out, the Army Corps of Engineers eventually allowed a small amount water in the lake bed and the flood threat eased.
Irrigators say it proves the complex system works, but the fact remains this system created over 150 years destroyed a huge natural environment.
The wildlife that lived in the area when Tulare Lake system was here was unlike anything else in the western United States.
The rangelands were full of elk that were being chased by grizzly bears and pelicans nesting on islands because there was so much fish.
So much fish that in 1888, between September and December, 134,000 pounds of fish were hauled from Tulare Lake to the markets of San Francisco.
The commercial fishery, along with the wildlife, disappeared when the lake dried.