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.
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.
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.
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.