The Way Water Moves in California

The Rivers of California

Networks of River systems, watersheds, ecosystems that have been tracing the land of this golden place long before the coming of all life – forever eroding their canyons, forever the same – individual spirits who prints in light define this place as much as any other piece of its topography.

Within California’s rugged borders, approximately ninety major rivers claim nearly a quarter of a million miles of running water. Ancient Rivers of Gold, those of which originating in the Sierra Nevada hold mysterious origins in volcanic narratives, millions of years ago. Others, directly reaching the sea, hold the home waters to historical runs of Steelhead and Pacific Salmon, seemingly infinite in their capacity to remember their lineage. Whatever their peripheral cause and bounty, the rivers of California, veins for the larger, living entity, sustain all life here in the land of fire forests, sage mountains and ranges of light. click map to enlarge


Key to the above map

  1. Scott River through the Marble Mountains
  2. Water systems of the Modoc Plateau, including Goose Lake and the Clear Lake Reservoir
  3. The Trinity River, The Mad River, and the Van Dureen River
  4. The three forks of the American River
  5. East of the Sierra – the Great Basin River systems: The Walker River, The Carson River and Mono Lake
  6. Lake Tahoe and The Truckee River
  7. Lake Berryessa and Putah Creek and the Yolo Watershed
  8. The San Joaquin River from its source in the Sierra
  9. The Kaweah-Tule River network
  10. The Los Angeles Watershed, including the Los Angeles River, The San Gabriel River and the Santa Ana River
  11. Colorado River Wash network
  12. San Felipe Creek network
  13. The Mojave River from The San Bernadino Mountains to Soda Lake the Afton Canyon
  14. Cadiz Valley intermittent river systems through the Old Woman Mountains
  15. The Colorado River, the southeastern border of California

The Hydrological regions of California – How the rain falls

click map to enlarge


a map of the ten hydrological regions of California, showing percentages and measurements of average annual surface rainfall.

There have been nine major droughts in California since 1900. Each major droughts lasts an average of three years.

Water Storage & Distribution in California

California’s interconnected water system serves over 30 million people and irrigates over 5,680,000 acres of farmland; it manages over 40,000,000 acre feet of water per year.

An acre-foot is a unit of volume commonly used in reference to large-scale water resources. An acre-foot is defined as the volume of one acre of surface area to a depth of one foot. As a rule of thumb, in U.S. water management, one acre-foot is taken to be the planned water usage of a suburban family household, annually. One acre-foot/year is approximately 893 gallons per day.

Groundwater is a critical element of the California water supply. During a normal year, 30% of the state’s water supply comes from groundwater. In times of intense drought, groundwater consumption can rise to 60% or more. Over 850,000 acre feet of water is stored in California’s 450 known groundwater reservoirs. click map to enlarge


Map including the nine major water storage projects, all of which are in Northern California, each of which house more than 1.5 million acre feet of water. Map also includes major canal networks. note: There are over 1,400 named dams and 1,300 named reservoirs in the state of California.


Categories: CALIFORNIA