California's Drought Exposes Long-Hidden Detritus More than 67 percent of California is experiencing "extreme drought" or worse. At Southern California's Lake Perris, dry conditions have revealed tractor tires and sunken boats, unseen for decades.
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California's Drought Exposes Long-Hidden Detritus

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California's Drought Exposes Long-Hidden Detritus

California's Drought Exposes Long-Hidden Detritus

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That is the sound of park ranger Javier Garza driving a boat across Southern California's Lake Perris. It's a man-made reservoir and recreation area. And it's like a lot of the rest of California right now - getting dryer every day in the state's long-lasting drought. As that water level has gone down, it's exposed some surprises. NPR's Tom Dreisbach has the story.

JAVIER GARZA: It is pretty windy today, so it might be a little rough.

TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Officer Garza took me out on Lake Perris on a hot, windy day here in Southern California. I'd asked to go out because all kinds of sunken - I don't want to call it treasure, but just sunken stuff has recently popped up.

GARZA: So this is probably about the closest we can get without running the risk of hitting something.

DREISBACH: We get close to the far side of the lake, where clumps of massive, eight-foot tractor tires stacked next to each other are peeking out of the water. One park employee calls it the serpent because it has a kind of rubber Loch Ness monster look to it. There are lots of tires - one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine - so many I actually lose count - dozens and dozens of huge tractor tires piled up here on the beach.

The story goes that when Lake Perris Dam was built in the early 1970s, there was a bunch of leftover construction equipment, including old worn-out tractor tires. So Fish and Wildlife decided to put them under about 35 feet of water as a habitat for bass. Then problems with the dam in 2005 meant the water level had to be lowered about 25 feet. Then came the drought. Water use has gone up making the water level drop at least 18 more feet.

When do you remember first seeing these come out?

GARZA: It was probably at the end of the season last year during the summertime - like September sometime.

DREISBACH: Garza says it's not just tires they're finding.

GARZA: You get a lot of boats and, you know, a lot of trash, lawn chairs, tables, stuff like that, so - tractor tires.

DREISBACH: In fact, rangers have found at least eight sunken boats, including one with tags from the 1970s. If they can't get the boats out, dive teams move the boats farther underwater - more habitat for the bass. It's pretty quiet out on the beach, but there are a few guys metal detecting or fishing. Have you got anything today?

STANYAN: Oh, no, I haven't. I've gotten a couple of hits on that particular rod, but no takers, just lookers, I guess, you know? (Laughter).

DREISBACH: This is Stanyan. He's retired and sitting by the water's edge with two fishing rods.

STANYAN: I've fished this lake solidly for a good 26 years.

DREISBACH: Oh, really, that long?

STANYAN: Yeah, I - when it was actually a, I mean, a decent lake where the water level was normal.

DREISBACH: Where did it used to be?

STANYAN: It used to be, gosh, right up - I'd say halfway up the rock ledge there.

DREISBACH: He points more than a dozen yards up the shore. That means this spot where he's sitting on the beach was once deep underwater, too. Tom Dreisbach, NPR News.

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