Reclamation districts: Turning ’swamps’ into farmland
California’s water crisis was set in motion the moment James Marshall discovered gold in a stream flowing beneath Sutter’s Mill in Coloma in 1848. The following year, after Pres. James Polk endorsed the find, more than 100,000 people migrated to California. These “’49ers” brought not only mining operations to California but most every other kind of business, from banking to transportation to retail sales, as thousands of corporations and entrepreneurs realized that there was as much money to be made from the influx of immigrants as from gold mining itself. Starting with the mining industry, which built sluices, flumes and dams to divert water to the purpose of extracting gold from the Earth, all of these businesses together consumed vast amounts of water, permanently altering the physical landscape of California and leading to the crisis that still plagues the state today.