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 needed water.
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 polarized.
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 giant kelp.
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 value.
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.
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.