Greg Collins takes a dive into Valley’s water history

Former Visalia councilman Greg Collins with his recently published book “Seven Generations; the Past, Present, and Future of the Tulare Lake Basin.”(Rigo Moran)

Former Visalia councilman releases a book on the history of water use in the San Joaquin Valley as water agencies face possibility of state intervention

TULARE COUNTY – Greg Collins recently released a book on the history of water use in the San Joaquin Valley, starting with a time before Europeans arrived to the area and writing up to the most recent developments with Groundwater Sustainability Agencies.

Collins has extensive experience in the field after spending more than 30 years in planning for the County of Tulare and serving on the Visalia City Council as well as the Visalia Redevelopment Agency from 1975 to 1991, some of the most formative years for the growing community.

The focus of the book, titled “Seven Generations; the Past, Present, and Future of the Tulare Lake Basin,” centers on conservation of water efforts and balances that theme with an overall concept of protecting the natural environment while providing the water farmers need. Collins co-authored the book with James Halloway, who has an economic planning background that compliments Collins’ ecological background. 

More than anything, Collins hopes readers see there are solutions to the water crisis in the Valley, he said in an interview with the Sun-Gazette.

“It’s a pretty quick read, but it will generate probably 100 questions in the reader’s mind,” Collins said. “We try to be solution-based rather than creating controversy. We looked at it, took a step back and said ‘how do we solve this?’ We are hoping people embrace some of the solutions we detailed in the book and we hope people have a better understanding of how the water system works in the Valley.”

Collins’ book begins with the Yokut Tribe and the uses of the three forks of the Tule River that drains into Tulare Lake. The lake was drained in the 1800s to create farmland, but historic rainfall in 2023 fueled by a series of atmospheric rivers led to the lake resurfacing. It will take at least a year for the swollen body to evaporate and will require millions of dollars to restore the damage.

In his book, Collins cites other major flood events in California’s past that led to the lake reforming. At one time, it was the largest freshwater body of water west of the Mississippi River, larger even than Lake Tahoe.

“One of the questions we posed in the book is ‘Might we bring back Tulare Lake and how would we do that?’” Collins said.

In 2014, the California State Legislature passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) which led to the creation of local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (SGA). These agencies are tasked with finding and enacting solutions to preventing groundwater stocks from drying up, as notably happened in 2015 and 2016 which saw thousands of Tulare County residents’ wells run dry. 

Many of the agencies are currently facing the possibility of a state agency takeover as they struggle to make progress toward creating action plans that meet the set of goals established through SGMA. A plan to restore all or part of Tulare Lake would significantly and positively impact groundwater stockpiles and would be an enormous works project, according to a presentation Collins provided to The Sun-Gazette prepared in part to promote his book.

He points out that many of the potential solutions for maintaining groundwater supplies in accordance with SGMA are shared in the book.

The title of the book is based on an Arapaho Native American belief that decisions should be made based on the impact on the future. Collins’ presentation points out that major changes to the Valley began five generations prior and posits that it has about two generations to make a solution.

Seven Generations is available on Amazon. 

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