Boswell holds flood water off some lake bed ground while planting tomatoes

April 2, 2023
by Lois Henry
A large field on lands owned by J.G. Boswell Company holds freshly transplanted tomatoes. This field is south of where the South Fork of the Kings river is being diverted using pipes and a low dam instead of being allowed to run straight south. Lois Henry / SJV Water
Lois Henry

“A little unusual”

SJV Water called J.G. Boswell Company Vice President Jeof Wyrick and ended up getting a warning from the cops.

SJV Water left a recorded message asking Wyrick why the J.G. Boswell Company was planting tomatoes in areas expected to flood and had placed a low dam at the confluence of the South Fork of the Kings and Tule rivers slowing that water down.

Wyrick never called back.

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.

Hmm. Okay.

In order to report this story, SJV Water used levee roads where numerous other vehicles were traveling and that were apparently open to public use without restriction.

The sergeant then noted the levees were getting waterlogged and weren’t always safe.

Understood, but Penal Code 409.5(d) says journalists cannot be kept out of disaster areas in order to provide the public with information, even at risk of their own safety.

When asked about the warning from his office, Sheriff Dave Robinson texted that his office regularly receives allegations of trespass from Boswell and his deputies go to the area to tell people if they’re on private land.

“I don’t give this (call) anything more than the prior calls,” he texted. “This was a little unusual in that they knew your name.”

Yeah, just a little.

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The rumors were so rampant, that Kings County sent agricultural inspectors into the old Tulare Lake bed to see if the powerful J.G. Boswell Company was holding back flood waters in order to plant tomatoes.

“They could not find anything,” Kings County Supervisor Doug Verboon said in a text to SJV Water on March 24.

But on Friday, March 31, SJV Water found Boswell fields full of freshly transplanted tomatoes near Utica Avenue in the southern portion of Tulare Lake. The fields stretch out for hundreds of acres. And south of Utica, a crop duster was busy coating even more Boswell fields.

A crop duster coats fields owned by the J.G. Boswell Company south of Utica Avenue March 31, 2023. Lois Henry / SJV Water

All of this is about four miles south of where the swollen South Fork of the Kings River is being slowed by a low dam and fed through pipes east and west into the Tule River Canal instead of running straight south into the vast lake bed.

That dam is pushing South Fork water high up into the channel, which runs just past the small community of Stratford.

When asked about the tomato plantings, Verboon said the county is now aware of the fields. He texted that the county ag inspectors had apparently only checked an area known as the Reclamation District 749. The fields being worked are farther south.

“This just demonstrates that they had other intentions,” Verboon said in an interview Sunday. He referred to statements made by Boswell representatives at a March 18 special Supervisors meeting.

At that meeting, the Boswell people said repeatedly that the company was trying to flood higher ground around the lake in order to hold space for water from the South Fork of the Kings River out of fear the coming runoff from the massive snowpack would fill the lake and swamp the town of Corcoran.

Water from the South Fork has been flowing into the channel since March 25 and is now coming in at about 2,000 cubic feet per second.

With evidence that Boswell is farming an area that could hold South Fork water, Verboon was frustrated.

“You can’t say you’re putting water onto higher elevations to save room in the lakebed and refuse to put water into the lake bottom and then you’re farming those areas.”

He  was disappointed, he said.

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

A call on Friday to Jeof Wyrick, a Boswell vice president about slowing South Fork water and the tomato plantings was not returned. Instead, SJV Water received a call from the Sheriff’s department (see sidebar).

Verboon was especially annoyed with the tomato fields because he specifically asked about South Fork water and this area of Boswell land at the March 18 meeting.

“I think we should have started this process already, gradually getting (South Fork) water down to relieve pressure later on,” Verboon said in a back and forth with Boswell President and Chief Operating Officer George Wurzel at the March 18 meeting.

“Pumping water into the south central is a part of the solution,” Wurzel assured him, in reference to the area now planted in tomatoes.

But water is still being kept off that ground.

A levee across Pueblo Avenue in the Tulare Lake bed was cut by the Kings County Public Works Department on March 28, 2023. Lois Henry / SJV Water

Verboon noted that wasn’t the only misrepresentation he felt Boswell people had made at the March 18 meeting.

“I asked if they had made any improvements to levees anticipating this flood and they said no. Well, they built a whole new levee in 749.”

There has long been a levee running east and west across the belly of Tulare Lake through Reclamation District 749. And it was that levee the Board of Supervisors ordered cut on March 18 to let water from the Tule River flood onto a section of the lake bed.

But Boswell crews had recently constructed a levee from the Tule River north to hold water off a large section of land that had been prepped for miles with tomato beds.

Kings County Sheriff Dave Robinson confirmed that levee was cut by the County Public Works Department on March 28.

Meanwhile, the Poso Creek busted through berms holding it back on the southern edge of Tulare Lake Thursday night and flooded into Boswell’s Homeland Canal, washing over a bridge and cutting off Dairy Avenue in the process.

Poso Creek water busted out of its impoundment Thursday night and washed over the Dairy Avenue bridge into the Homeland Canal. Lois Henry / SJV Water

Boswell had been in a standoff with the Deer Creek Storm Water District to keep Poso water off its lands.

Thousands of acres had to be flooded to the south of Boswell’s lands in order to keep the Poso out of the Homeland Canal.

All while thousands of Boswell acres to the north remained dry.

But the water ultimately couldn’t be held and rushed into the canal Thursday.

Friday, bright yellow crop duster could be seen spraying Boswell lands a short distance away.

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.


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