The world’s largest water lift, the Edmonston Pumping Plant is a
State Water Project
facility. The pumping plant plays a vital role in Southern
California’s economy by supplying the semi-arid region with badly
An acre foot of water equals about 326,000 gallons, or enough
water to cover an acre of land 1-foot deep.
To put it another way, an acre foot of water is enough to flood a
football field 1-foot deep (a football field is roughly an acre
An acre foot of water is a common way to measure water volume and
use. In California, an acre foot, or 326,000 gallons, can
typically meet the annual indoor and outdoor needs of one to
two average households. But, in more recent years,
an acre foot began serving even more households.
As the single largest water-consuming industry, agriculture has
become a focal point for efforts to promote water conservation.
In turn, discussions about agricultural water use often become
With this in mind, the drive for water use efficiency has become
institutionalized in agriculture through numerous federal, state
and local programs.
California’s rich agricultural productivity comes with a price.
The dry climate that provides the almost year-round growing
season also can require heavily irrigated soils. But such
irrigation can degrade the local water quality.
Two of the state’s most productive farming areas in particular,
the west side of the San
Joaquin Valley and parts of the Imperial Valley in Southern
California, have poorly drained and naturally saline soils.
Agriculture drainage issues date back to the earliest farming. In
ancient times, farmers let fields stay fallow hoping rain would
flush out salt.
Today, salt and other contaminants continue to cause agricultural
drainage problems, particularly in California. Whether a field is
adequately drained, or saturated with water, the water still has
to be removed.
The disposal of this often-contaminated water continues to be a
challenge in California, with the environmental effects of
selenium and other drainage-related elements changing the course
of drainage planning.
Organisms that photosynthesize
but lack the formal water circulation structure of land plants
are placed in the broad
category of “algae.” These can grow in either freshwater or
saltwater environments, existing as single cells (often
congregating in colonies) or multicellular organisms such as
As one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world,
the Imperial Valley
receives its water from the Colorado River via the
All-American Canal. Rainfall is scarce in the desert region at
less than three inches per year and groundwater is of little
Alluvium generally refers to the clay, silt, sand and gravel that
are deposited by a stream, creek or other water body.
Alluvium is found around deltas and rivers, frequently
making soils very fertile. Alternatively, “colluvium” refers to
the accumulation at the base of hills, brought there from runoff
(as opposed to a water body). The Oxnard Plain in Ventura
County is a visible alluvial plain, where floodplains have
drifted over time due to gradual deposits of alluvium, a feature
also present in Red Rock Canyon State Park in Kern County.
The American River, with headwaters in the Tahoe and El Dorado
National forests of the Sierra Nevada, is the birthplace of the
California Gold Rush. It currently serves as a major water
supply, recreational destination and habitat for hundreds of
species. The geologically diverse
North, Middle and South forks comprise the American
River or the Río de los Americanos, as it was called during
California’s Mexican rule.
Applied water refers to water delivered by an application to a
user, either indoors or outdoors. Applied water use typically
occurs in an agricultural or urban setting.
In agriculture, applied water is typically supplied through
irrigation, which uses such devices as pipes and sprinklers.
There are also different types of systems including gravity flow
and pressurized systems.
With soil absorbing applied water and being porous (some water
can move down below a plant’s root zone), it is necessary to
apply more water than a crop might need.
Aquifers are an unseen but critical resource in California’s
water supply system.
These natural basins that sit below the surface are found
underneath 40 percent of California’s land area.
Aquifers come in two types. Some are formed in the space
between porous materials such as sand, gravel, silt or clay and
are known as alluvial aquifers or unconfined aquifers. However,
in many places in California, there are aquifers beneath a rock
layer that does not allow water to permeate in measurable
amounts. These are known as confined aquifers.
The legal term “area-of-origin” dates back to 1931 in California.
At that time, concerns over water transfers prompted enactment of
four “area-of-origin” statutes. With water transfers from
Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley to supply water for San Francisco
and from Owens Valley to Los Angeles fresh in mind, the statutes
were intended to protect local areas against export of water.
In particular, counties in Northern California had concerns about
the state tapping their water to develop California’s supply.
ARkStorm stands for an atmospheric river (“AR”) that carries
precipitation levels expected to occur once every 1,000 years
(“k”). The concept was presented in a 2011 report by the U.S.
Geological Survey (USGS) intended to elevate the visibility of
the very real threats to human life, property and ecosystems
posed by extreme storms on the West Coast.
Both the drought and high nitrate levels in shallow groundwater have necessitated deeper
drilling of new wells in the San Joaquin Valley, only to expose
water with heightened
arsenic levels. Arsenic usually exists in water as arsenate
or arsenite, the latter of which is more frequent in deep lake
sediments or groundwater with little oxygen and is both
more harmful and difficult to remove.
Atmospheric rivers are relatively narrow bands of moisture that
ferry precipitation across the Pacific Ocean to the West Coast.
They are commonly referred to as the “Pineapple Express” because
of their origins in tropical regions. While atmospheric rivers
are necessary to keep California’s water reservoirs full, some of
them are dangerous because the extreme rainfall and wind can
cause catastrophic flooding and damage. Their presence has been
likened to the West Coast version of the hurricane hazard posed
to the Southeastern United States.
Jean Auer (1937-2005) was the first woman to serve on the
California State Water Resources Control Board and a pioneer for
women aspiring to be leaders in the water world.
She is described as a “woman of great spirit who made large
contributions to improve the waters of California.” She was
appointed as the State Water Board’s public member by
then-Governor Ronald Reagan and served from 1972-1977 during a
time period that included the passage of the federal Clean Water
Act. She became part of the growing movement for water quality
regulations to stop water pollution.