A Carrizo Plain National Monument sign stands in a large valley with mountains in the background.
Rafting the Kern River Three Pump Jacks, Midway-Sunset Oilfield Painted Rock. Carrizo Plain National Monument. Poppy Piedras Blancas Lightstation, San Simeon
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Atwell Island Land Retirement Demonstration Project

Atwell Island is located within the southeastern portion of now-drained Tulare Lake which as recently as 100 years ago was the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River. The lake has been dry for many years, with its water now stored behind foothill dams and used for agriculture. The Central Valley Project Improvement Act of 1992 authorized a land retirement program to reduce the accumulation of drain water and lessen problems associated with its disposal. An interagency team consisting of representatives from the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U. S. Bureau of Land Management was assembled to accomplish the goals of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act Land Retirement Program. This program may purchase land, water, and other property interests from willing sellers.

The objectives of the project are to:

  • Assess the effects of land retirement on drain water and ground water levels,
  • Evaluate the potential of land retirement to decrease bioavailable selenium and other toxic compounds,
  • Develop and determine costs of effective restoration technologies for establishing native biota on the sites, and
  • Determine the responses of wildlife to restoration efforts.

BLM now owns and manages Atwell Island which consists of 7,000 acres located just south of Alpaugh, Tulare County, and is situated near the Pixley National Wildlife Refuge, Kern National Wildlife Refuge and Allensworth State Historic Park.

BLM is restoring native valley grassland, a wetland, and alkali sink habitats on an area that for the past century was covered by fields of cotton, oats, and alfalfa. Atwell Island is currently home to federally listed and sensitive animal species including mountain plover, Tipton's kangaroo rat, and the San Joaquin kit fox, tricolored blackbird, burrowing owls, horned lizards, and the blunt-nosed leopard lizard.

Ton Tache Wetlands

The Ton Tache Wetlands, were constructed on the site of long-since drained Tulare lake. The were designed and constructed by the U. S. National Resource Conservation Service, with assistance from the Bureau of Reclamation and the Tulare Basin Wildlife Partners, on land donated to the BLM. On April 30, 2010 a wildlife viewing platform was opened at this location.

Atwell Island Project. Boardwalk / wildlife viewing platform. Ton Tache Wetlands.

Atwell Island Project. Boardwalk / wildlife viewing platform. May 2010, BLM Photo.



Proceed on California State Highway 99 to the community of Earlimart. Earlimart is located about 9 miles north of Delano, and 6 miles south of Pixley. Take Avenue 56, exit 65, continue west 12 miles to the community of Alpaugh. (Note: about 3 miles after crossing State Highway 43, the name of the road changes to Avenue 54). In the center of Alpaugh turn left (south) on Road 38 continue 2 miles. Here, continue straight on the graveled road, follow signs about 1 mile to the wildlife viewing platform in the Ton Tache Wetlands.

Learn more about the Atwell Island Land Retirement Demonstration Project

New viewing platform at Atwell Island wetlands May 3, 2010, BLM News.bytes, issue 430.

Atwell Island Project Herbarium, an illustrated list of plants on the project

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Tulare Basin Wildland Partners

"Restoration project Atwell Island shows success..."  Visalia Times-Delta (May 14, 2014)