Water made California.
The statement is often made about what is arguably the largest and most complex water transfer system ever created by mankind – the California State Water Project – and its embracing cousin the Federal Central Valley Project.
California literally moves the precious liquid from the sources of the Sacramento River in Mount Shasta City Park to the San Diego taps some 723 miles away. Along the way, the water passes through no less than four separate water basins. Its journey is facilitated by the 444-mile California Aqueduct.
A series of pumps – including the Edmonston plant that lifts water to 1,926 feet to pass through the Tehachapi Mountains – help the water to rise. The State Water Project is California’s largest consumer of electricity.
Without the massive transfer of water by state and federal water projects as well as a host of smaller water projects, Los Angeles and San Francisco would be a tenth of their size – if it were. the case.
And the San Joaquin Valley would not be the most fertile agricultural region in the world.
But what man has created is only fleeting. What nature does with water is transformative.
The Earth is 4.54 billion years old, roughly 100 million years old. California’s geological roots date back 1.8 billion years to the Proterozoic, based on the oldest rocks found within state borders in the San Gabriel Mountains, the Mojave Desert, and the San Bernardino Mountains . That said, it’s rare to find rocks over 600 million years old in California.
Nature has used everything from tectonic plates and moving volcanoes to endless climate change to shape California as it is today and what it will look like in the future.
While the other forces of nature create the canvas, water is what sculpts its intricate shapes.
Water literally wears out mountains. Frozen, it can break blocks of mountain rock. It forms glaciers which carve out valleys in the granite. He crushes the rock into sand. It fills the lakes and inland seas with silt. And it wears out the rugged sand coasts.
We literally live on what water has created.
The San Joaquin Valley began to take shape 65 million years ago during the Mesozoic era. He appeared like a basin in front of a mountain range. It then became an inland sea that was finally filled with sediment.
Those who have visited Yosemite Valley have walked in what is one of the world’s most remarkable works of the cumulative and relentless power of water.
What is Yosemite Valley today 50 million years ago were just hills. It wasn’t until 10 million years ago that the upward tilt of what is now the Sierra began in earnest.
This paved the way for three glaciations in the Yosemite Valley, the first occurring between 250,000 to a million years ago and the last 10,000 years ago.
The last glacial advance in Yosemite Valley created what you see today. The valley sits on 2,000 feet of sediment and glacial fill that plugged up what the first Yosemite Ice Age carved out of bedrock.
Water – in the form of frost – splits rock fragments at the edge of cliffs to help create awe-inspiring waterfalls.
Frozen water is perhaps a more dramatic way to wear down rock, but it’s not the most common.
Examples of “simple” waters carving out narrow canyons can be found throughout the high desert, but especially in Death Valley.
It appears that the water helps create endless canyons in an area that experiences tiny precipitation across North America of less than 2.2 inches per year during the modern Death Valley period. In comparison, the annual rainfall in the Mojave Desert as a whole is 5.5 inches, while the typical desert rainfall around the world is 10 inches per year.
Because it is so arid, the soil so dry, and the rock formations so prevalent, fairly light precipitation can set the stage for powerful flash floods that displace giant boulders and carve canyon boardwalks.
The four mountain ranges of Death Valley are dotted with towering dryfalls ranging from several feet to 80 feet; the larger ones are mostly smooth and narrow, averaging five feet wide.
While we worry about having too much or not enough water, nature continues to use water to reshape the landscape thanks to an ever-changing climate.