Return of California's Tulare Lake floods farms, threatens way of life for communities

The once-dry Tulare Lake in central California is now reemerging, flooding local farms and communities and causing potential billions of dollars in damage.

Located near the halfway point between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Tulare Lake was once the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River.

The rivers that fed the lake, however, were dammed by 1920 and diverted for irrigation and other uses, according to NASA.

In the decades since, the dry lakebed has boomed as communities and farms growing tomatoes, cotton and cattle sprouted over the space once covered by water.

One of those communities is Corcoran in Kings County. Known as the farming capital of California, Corcoran now faces having its farms, residents and even a local prison being flooded by rising waters in the low-lying land.

A stream of atmospheric rivers, along with the melting of record snowpack, has caused water levels to surge around Corcoran, pushing levees that surround the community to the limit.

RELATED: Less than 9% of California in drought, latest update shows

Many roads and fields have already disappeared under the rising waters.

"Possibly 100,000-plus acres is going to be underwater for possibly two years," said Kings County agricultural consultant Mark Grewal.

According to Grewal, the flooding may lead to at least $2 billion in lost revenue and damages.

City officials are attempting to hold the water at bay by raising its 14.5 miles of levees by 3.5 feet. By building up the levees, the city hopes for a gradual runoff.

Due to a layer of clay that may prevent the water from quickly trickling down into the aquifer below, the timeline for when the water will recede and when the farmland will return remains uncertain.

"It's a very difficult situation," said Greg Gatzka, city manager for the City of Corcoran. "But when you're placed in a position of trust by a community, you have to just go past that to focus on what needs to be done."

Get updates on FOX Weather