The Central Valley Project, California (USA)


Water Transfer Schemes

Water transfer schemes refer to the voluntary transformation in the water distribution among water users in reaction to water shortage or scarcity. Water transfers can be temporary or permanent regarding the place of use, the point of diversion, intention, and water rights. While in short-term diverts, the duration is a year or less, in long-term transfers the period exceeds a year (Ghimire & Griffin, 2014). There are five primary methods of transferring the water: water can be moved from the point of storage a year earlier than had been initially intended. Groundwater can be pumped as a substitution for using surface water; after transfer of the surface water rights.  Thirdly, water can be transferred from a previous water bank. Another way of transferring water involves decreasing the present consumption or use of water through crop shifting or idling (Ghimire & Griffin, 2014).  Finally, water can be transferred through reduction of return flows. Water transfers come in handy in controlling floods, generating electricity, enhancing agriculture in arid areas and opening disadvantaged communities to develop. The Central Valley Project (CVP) in California, USA, is a perfect example of a water transfer scheme. To better understand the concept of water transfer, this research uses the case study of the CVP.

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Purpose of Water Transfer Schemes

It is estimated that about 1.1 billion people across the world have no access to freshwater, therefore prompting the need to have water transfer schemes. They redirect water from rivers with surpluses to the ones having shortages. The benefits of such schemes include improved economic stability and environmental health (Ghimire & Griffin, 2014). The relevant authorities can then use the profits to fund constructive activities. The excess water can be used for irrigation, and proceeds plowed back into businesses. The water districts could rely on the income to decrease water rates and enhance facilities.

The California Valley Project (CVP) was initiated in 1991 following consultation between various agencies in the Californian government. Initially, CVP was intended to protect the Central Valley from the debilitating water shortages and the raging floods. With time, the project had numerous benefits such as improved navigation of the Sacramento River, the constant supply of industrial and domestic water, electric power generation, conservation of fish and wildlife, more opportunities for recreation and overall better water quality (Fitchette, 2016). The CVP supplies water to homes, farms, and industries in the Central Valley as well as metropolitan areas in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Much of the wetlands of California derive water from the project. Apart from supplying water to the farms, factories, homes, and the neighborhoods, the CVP generates electricity and safeguards against floods. It also improves navigation.

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The multipurpose initiative is pivotal to the power economy of California, ensuring the constant supply of water for 60% of the agricultural counties in the state. According to estimates from Federal Bureau of Statistics, the value of crops and correlated industries has returned 10000% of the initial investment in the project, which was $ 3 billion (Fitchette, 2016). Much of the gains come from irrigation projects and industrial water use.

Different Stakeholders in Water Transfer Schemes

Water transfer schemes involve many stakeholders such as the government, the state authorities, legislators, environmentalists, and various interest groups. The main reason for involvement is to protect the environment even as the benefits of the projects are realized (Maestro, Barnett, Coble, Garrido & Bielza, 2016). For instance, people staying in the areas to be reclaimed have to be compensated. The project has to be evaluated regarding the threats it could pose to aquatic life as well as reduced water supply to some areas. The government provides laws and protection to the people. Businesses and industries benefit from the project through irrigation and increased navigation, for instance (Maestro et al., 2016). The CVP, for instance, is controlled by the water rights which are under the jurisdiction of the water district.

It was Governor Schwarzenegger who declared drought in 2009 and mandated the Department of Water Resources to form the 2009 Drought Water Bank (Fitchette, 2016). There were arrangements to purchase land for the project. In the CVP, public participation was required to consider their inputs and reactions. There is also the need for equity and social justice, which means that the benefits have to be somewhat and equitably shared. The project should be conducted in a way that does not harm the environment, the fishes, and the adjacent communities (Maestro et al., 2016). People should feel included and access the services for the overall improvement of their lives and environments.

Successes and Failures of the CVP

Although the CVP has mostly been beneficial to the people and the industries, it has also had its fair share of controversies and weaknesses. Apart from water regulation and storage, the project boasts of a hydroelectric capacity of about 2000 megawatts and provides flood control and recreation (Olsson, 2017). The benefits are due to 20 dams and reservoirs the project has. The project has seen the growth of major cities, especially along the California Valley. The rivers that previously flooded every spring have now transformed the hitherto semi-arid areas of the San Joaquin Valley into productive farmlands.

The freshwater the Sacramento River stored in reservoirs is released downstream during dry spells so that salt water is prevented from finding its way into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in high tide. The project has eight divisions, each with ten units. Many of the units operate conjunctively while others work independently. According to Olsson (2017), now, California agriculture and associated industries are responsible for 7% of the profits the state receives from the California Valley Project.

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The benefits of the project notwithstanding, most CVP operations have faced important environmental consequences, the gravest of which was the decline of the salmon population in four major California Rivers. Again, there was shrinking of wetlands and riparian zones. Moreover, many Native American tribal lands and historical sites have faced flooding by the reservoirs. Furthermore, runoff emanating from intensive irrigation pollutes groundwater as well as rivers. Enacted into law in 1992, the Central Valley Project Improvement Act seeks to reduce some of the issues related to the CVP through programs such as Refuge Water Supply Program (Olsson, 2017). Recently, a continuum of regulatory and drought decisions enacted in line with the Endangered Species Act of 1973 has obliged the Reclamation to divert some of the water from the west of the San Joaquin Valley in a bid to safeguard ecosystem in the San Joaquin Delta and protect the declining fish populations in the Central Valley rivers.

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  1. Fitchette, T. (2016). California water storage slightly better than this time last year. Western Farm Press, 38(18), 3.
  2. Ghimire, N., & Griffin, R. C. (2014). The Water Transfer Effects of Alternative Irrigation Institutions. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 96(4), 970-990.
  3. Maestro, T., Barnett, B. J., Coble, K. H., Garrido, A., & Bielza, M. (2016). Drought Index Insurance for the Central Valley Project in California. Applied Economic Perspectives & Policy.
  4. Olsson, T. C. (2017). The Nature of Economic Development. Reviews in American History, 45(1), 120-127.
  5. Panda, S. A. (2015). On Fish and Farms: The Future of Water in California’s Central Valley after San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority v. Jewell. Ecology Law Quarterly, 42(2), 397-436.
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