California's Water Crises

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California has ample water supplies to meet both societal and environmental needs; the general challenge that has plagued the state over its history has been that it has not been a problem of availability but rather of distribution. Two thirds of the state's total precipitation falls in the north while the majority of demand is in the south. Water resources in Southern California have evolved and will continue to change due to emerging challenges including environmental regulations, climate and financial uncertainty. These changes drastically affect key supplies. Adapting to these changes is important in order to maintain a reliable, high quality water supply.

As population grows, so does the demand for water. Before gold was discovered at Sutter's mill in 1848, there were no substantial settlements - only missions and ranches along the coast and a few early pioneers. Streams ran uncontrolled and during the wet seasons, large areas became wetlands filled with wildlife. Gold mining changed the way water resources were used. Hundreds of miles of flumes and ditches were built to divert water to sluice for gold. Within a year of the discovery of gold, the California Gold Rush was on and a wave of immigrants came to California. Although southern California was not greatly affected by the gold rush, the region's Mediterranean climate began luring immigrants into the area. Despite recurring droughts experienced in the mid-1800's, the climate and availability of land were appealing and attracted new residents even though they faced the reality of scarce water supplies.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2011

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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