By Cresencio Rodriguez Delgado
FRESNO– The very first time my family went to visit Lake Success, I was a bit nervous to step out of our family van. Being just a small child, the monstrous lake was intimidating. From my low vantage point in the car, it seemed as if we were actually driving on the lake.
I returned to the lake years later as a young adult, and the lake that had been huge in my mind’s eye didn’t match the tiny pond sitting before me. Of course, most things from childhood seem to grow smaller one grows taller, but this was different.
The lake didn’t just seem smaller, it was smaller – and by a lot.
Arriving at the lake as a kid, all I could see out of our van’s window was the sparkling, blue water. The golden hills and winding roads made the area seem like a foreign land, even though it was just a few minutes from my childhood home in Porterville.
Our family, like many others, escaped the Central Valley heat by taking a trip to the lake.
Lake Success was an oasis.
Countless vans, trucks and canopies lined the lakeshore and anywhere you stood, you could smell the barbecue lunches from the picnic tables set up along the shore. Cold drinks and fresh fruit helped everyone stay cool, and music radiated around the lake while children swam and played. Boats of all kinds filled the water, from fishing boats to pontoons to sheriff’s boats.
Lake Success sure was a success at one point. Built in 1961, Success Dam created a reservoir by damming up the South Fork of the Tule River. The result was Lake Success, which in addition to being a place of recreation, provided water for irrigation on nearby farms.
The lake sat mostly unchanged up until just a few years ago. With the safety of the old dam in question, the amount of water allocated to the reservoir was reduced.
Today, even though the cutback in water has been officially lifted, the lake has not returned to what it was. In fact, it’s even more diminished. But this time the reason is not a decision made by the water district — it’s nature. Ravaged by drought, the lake now sits nearly empty, at just 7 percent of capacity.
Now, fishing is almost completely unheard of here, boating is nearly impossible with the water so low, and lake visits become less appealing by the day. Lake Success is slowly drying up, as are my memories and hopes of ever seeing it as powerful and vibrant as it was in my childhood.
Growing up, it was common to overhear a people speculating about the damage a break in the dam would cause. People would grimace at the thought — a vast amount of water that would flood the town if something were to ever happen to the dam. I see the lake now and those conversations seem almost completely ridiculous. I look back and question why anybody would ever think or say such things.
As I stand on the shore revisiting the remnants of Lake Success, I’m left to ponder how something that loomed so large could recede so quickly. That living lake of my childhood now exists only in the countless photos taken, the many memories of weekends on the shore, and the empty hole it leaves in the surrounding community. The severe drought that is crippling nearly half the state has provided a stark reminder. Nothing remains the same.