Established as part of a $1.75 billion bond passed by voters in 1960, the 444-mile long California Aqueduct (formally known as the Edmund G. Brown California Aqueduct) begins at the Harvey O. Banks Pumping Plant and parallels Interstate 5 south to the Tehachapi Mountains.
To cross the Tehachapis into Southern California, a huge amount of water is lifted some 2,000 feet at the A. D. Edmonston Pumping Plant – it’s more water pumped higher than anywhere else in the world.
California Aqueduct Overview
The SWP’s most visible facility, the California Aqueduct is an artificial river shaped like an inverted trapezoid. Varying in bottom width from 12 feet to 85 feet and an average of 30 feet deep, the concrete channel Aqueduct uses check structures with an innovative “controlled volume flow” system to move water through an open canal much as a pipeline would. The aqueduct was constructed using specially designed equipment to build its massive sloping walls.
About 30 percent of SWP water is delivered to San Joaquin Valley farms and cities via the California Aqueduct. The largest single customer in this area is the Kern County Water Agency, whose contract allows it to receive as much as 1 million acre-feet of water per year. Just south of Kettleman City, the Coastal Branch diverges from the main Aqueduct to deliver water to Kern, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
By the time the California Aqueduct reaches A.D. Edmonston Pumping Plant at the northern edge of the Tehachapi Mountains, there is still as much as 2.5 million acre-feet of water to be delivered to 13 Southern California water contractors. Fourteen pumps lift the water almost 2,000 feet over the mountains, where it is split into two aqueducts that serve Southern California.
Water from the West Branch Aqueduct is stored in Pyramid Lake and Castaic Lake for distribution to Los Angeles and surrounding cities. The East Branch Aqueduct passes through Palmdale and Lancaster, and stores water in Silverwood Lake and Lake Perris for distribution to Inland Empire cities such as San Bernardino and Riverside.
Land subsidence caused by groundwater extraction is a problem for the California Aqueduct. A map prepared for DWR by NASA shows that sections of the aqueduct have sunk so much that the canal has a carrying capacity 20 percent less than its design capacity.
Delta Mendota Canal and California Aqueduct Intertie
In December 2009, federal officials announced the approval of a long-planned Delta-Mendota Canal/California Aqueduct Intertie project. Completed in 2012, the $34 million project connects the Delta-Mendota Canal to the California Aqueduct to increase the operational flexibility of the SWP and the Central Valley Project. Overseen by the Bureau of Reclamation, the new pipeline and pumping plant also aid in delivering water and responding to CVP and SWP water emergencies.