More than a century ago, local grapevines allegedly required no irrigation, and a hand pump could draw water from a hand-dug well. Now machines perform the well drilling and liquid lifting, and wells in the San Joaquin Valley may extend 400-800 feet from the surface.
A basin of lakes, wetlands, and Tule grass has become a vale of cities, towns, irrigated farms and orchards, ranches, dairies, oil derricks, and desert.
The Valley has only grown drier as droughts and environmental regulations reduced federal government water deliveries in recent decades. Those deliveries supply water that once flowed freely in natural rivers but now sit behind dams in reservoirs.
The last great California dam would be 1979’s New Melones Dam on the Stanislaus River in the Sierra Nevada foothills. It and others were built to provide irrigation, flood control, water for Californians, recreation, and in some cases electricity. But despite them the Valley suffers chronic water shortages, especially since the 1980s...