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Droughts and Their Impact on California's Water Supply System

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California is known for its contrasting weather patterns. These distinct patterns are often caused by climate change that has affected California’s water for decades. California has a large amount of oceans, streams, rivers, and lakes which have played a big role on the natural landscape as well as overall climate. According to our textbook, in chapter two of ‘The Natural Setting’, it discusses the shortage of water as well as drought history in California and what impact that has had on the hydraulic system. The Elusive Eden goes into great detail regarding California’s prolonged water shortages and what impact that has on the natural surroundings as well as the lack of rainfall. It also demonstrates the complex drought patterns in California and how that aspect plays a significant role on water quality. California by far has the most conflicting climate changes than anywhere else in the United States because of the differing climate as well as landscapes; this has caused California to have tons of droughts almost every year. Most of the time a drought happens when there has been a declination of water or a decrease in rainfall for a significant amount of time which can last for months or even years. California has often had to deal with a tremendous amount of water management issues due to its distinctive climate and lack of rainfall. This long-term challenge will continue to persist in the state of California. A combination of water shortages as well as a growing population have only added to these complications making it difficult for California to create laws or ideas that would combat these long-term issues. The hydraulic era was established to create a system that balances the changes in population as well as the overall economy while focusing solely on water management issues in California. California’s large growing population flood and water policies needed to be changed in order to cover a large distance. Water companies have faced a number of challenges trying to create working water policies due to the states changing ecosystem and constantly have to come up with new strategies to adapt to these changes.

One of the first conflicts the hydraulic era faced was the ever-changing climate in California and aiming to come up with solutions in order to solve an ongoing water crisis. Growing cities all over California have fought for new water policies in order to suit their ever-growing population. California had trouble dealing with new environmental statutes. Water companies aimed to transform water management policies to suit the environment. According to ‘Floods, Droughts, and Lawsuits: A Brief History of California Water Policy’ it states, “In the Water Commission Act of 1913, however, it endeavored to devise a comprehensive system for regulating water rights. The act created a State Water Commission with the power to issue permits and licenses to govern the exercise of water rights” (Floods, Droughts, and Lawsuits, page 37). This quote shows what policies California used in order to stop conflict caused by the hydraulic era. The Water Commission Act of 1913, was one of the first water policy acts in California and paved the way for water regulation as well as water usage. Not only were there laws surrounding water shortages, the court had to protect aquatic life as well as water quality in order to keep the state’s water sources well accounted for and clean. The amount of water use was an ongoing concern in court as well as how much water could be used during a shortage or a long-term drought.

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The federal government took charge in the next step of the hydraulic era by looking at two of the state’s largest water sources. This led to the Boulder Canyon Project and the Central Valley Project which help to transport water from the mountains to the cities and farms. The Boulder Canyon Project was a large dam that allowed the United States to dominate this large river and use it as a main water source to help provide water to cities as well as farms. This helped to grow agricultural as well as provided more than enough water to crowding cities in California. California’s large growing population caused the Colorado river quickly dry up killing fish, wildlife, leaving more of a puddle than a lush stream. California’s large water demands caused many conflicts in which the Colorado river could no longer keep up with the state’s growing population. The Central Valley Project, was influenced by farmers who needed a large amount of water to satisfy their crops. This water was taken from the Sierra Nevadas, however due to large acres of land the San Joaquin Valley relied solely on groundwater which was detrimental to the valley’s aquifers. During this time California was in the middle of a large drought as well as the midst of the Great Depression which had a significant impact on the state’s economy which made it near impossible to fund the Central Valley Project. The sole purpose of the Central Valley Project was to control flood management, water supply, and control where water was sent to. According to ‘The PPIC Article/ Hydraulic Era/ Managing California’s Water from Conflict to Reconciliation’, it discusses how the Central Valley has continued to expand which has led farmers without surface irrigation to water their crops because of this groundwater has been limited. A significant amount of conflicts have arisen from this issue. For example, the creation of new pumps and drilling has led to decline in groundwater.

The management of California’s groundwater has been a persistent issue for water management. The history of California in the twentieth century is the story of a state inventing itself with water, it discusses the important elements of groundwater as well as the issues of water management in California. This article discusses the ways California has aimed to adapt to water shortages as well as what led to the water management. California’s diverse range of climates has a significant impact on natural precipitation that could lead to a drought for months or potential flooding. The climate isn’t the only cause for the lack of natural groundwater in California. California’s natural landscape ranges from mountains, terrains, deserts, great valley, and the coastal plains which have a significant impact on water policies as well as water management. Due to California’s diverse landscape the state relies heavily on groundwater in order to meet water supply needs. California uses more groundwater than any other state in America which is a concern considering this over use causes the natural groundwater table to lower which results in wells not being able to reach the water. When too much of the groundwater is used this can cause the land to subside meaning there’s not enough support from water below the surface to hold up the ground. Overuse of groundwater can often times cause waters in streams and lakes to dry up killing animals and reducing natural water sources. This can also lead to deterioration of natural water quality, contaminating the area and polluting drinking water throughout the state.

The hydraulic system has had a huge impact on the state’s water supply and has faced a large amount of issues for decades. California has struggled to keep up with water policies and has often faced a number of problems trying to adapt to California’s climate and large population. The hydraulic era was an era of conflict in California considering water companies had issues developing strategies to keep up with California’s high demands, environmental statutes, and issues with overuse of groundwater. The state has faced a number of problems trying to keep up with California’s diverse landscape which has often led to long term droughts affecting the amount of water supply within the state. Not only has the climate played a large role during the hydraulic era the creation of water policies and keeping up with California’s high demands have created a significant amount of problems. California will continue to face a number of challenges when dealing with the hydraulic system and will have to continue to find a solution to fix these long-term issues.

Works Cited

  1. Bullough, William A, Irwin, Mary Ann, Orsi, Richard J, Rice, Richard B. Chapter One/ Managing California’s Water. Elusive Eden. 2012.
  2. Ellen Hanak, Jay Lund, Ariel Dinar, Brian Gray, Richard Howitt, Jeffrey Mount, Peter Moyle Barton “Buzz” Thompson. PPIC Article/ Hydraulic Era/ Managing California’s Water from Conflict to Reconciliation. 2011.
  3. William L. Kahrl, Water and Power. The History of California in the Twentieth Century Is the Story of a State Inventing Itself with Water. 1982.
  4. Sarah Null, Eleanor Bartolomeo, Jay Lund, Ellen Hanak. Managing California’s Water Insights from Interviews with Water Policy Experts. February 2011.

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Droughts and Their Impact on California’s Water Supply System. (2022, October 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 27, 2023, from
“Droughts and Their Impact on California’s Water Supply System.” Edubirdie, 28 Oct. 2022,
Droughts and Their Impact on California’s Water Supply System. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 Mar. 2023].
Droughts and Their Impact on California’s Water Supply System [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Oct 28 [cited 2023 Mar 27]. Available from:
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