Home Issues State Water Project History of the State Water Project

History of the State Water Project

Water is the defining resource for California prosperity. On the farm, in the factory, around the home – the availability of clean and affordable water is the critical ingredient in creating the state’s thriving economy and world-renowned quality of life.

lake del valle copyProviding water to areas throughout California has been a central—and ongoing—story in the state’s history.  More than fifty years ago, forward-thinking leaders of our state developed water supply and delivery systems to supplement local sources and to ensure the state’s future.

The State Water Project exemplifies Californians’ investment in their collective future. And it’s certainly no coincidence that development of this important water supply closely paralleled California’s rise to the forefront of the national economy, and the state’s stature as the world’s sixth largest economy.

In 1960, California voters approved $1.75 billion in general obligation bonds to finance construction of the State Water Project. Water supply contracts were signed between the state and public agencies stretching from counties in the north, to the San Francisco Bay area, through the San Joaquin Valley, and into Southern California. Water deliveries from the project began in 1965.

Under the contracts signed between the state and public agencies (known as the State Water Contractors), it was agreed that the agencies would receive specified amounts of water each year from the State Water Project. In return, the agencies agreed to repay the full cost, including interest, of financing, building, operating and maintaining the intricate water delivery system.

The State Water Project is operated and maintained by the California Department of Water Resources, and it extends from three recreational lakes in Plumas County in Northern California to Riverside County in Southern California. Its pumping plants move the water through canals, underground pipelines, siphons, and tunnels, including the 444-mile California Aqueduct.

The State Water Project's water supply capability depends in part on how much rain and snow from the Sierras makes it into the Sacramento River and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. In recent years, the amount of water available to the State Water Project Contractors has also been impacted significantly by regulatory restrictions. Water deliveries have ranged from 1.4 million acre-feet in dry years to almost 4.0 million acre-feet in wet years. Given there is no assured or “guaranteed” annual water supply, local State Water Contractor agencies have worked hard to develop additional local water supplies.

Today, there are 27 member agencies of the State Water Contractors that purchase water from the State Water Project.  Water from the project serves more than 25 million residents, irrigates more than 750,000 acres of prime agricultural lands and directly sustains $400 billion of the statewide economy.

The State Water Project is one of the most ambitious and economically beneficial investments Californians have ever made to promote and ensure their well-being. Inextricably linked with the Delta, the project’s full promise will only be realized once we make critical infrastructure investments to separate the state’s water operations from the delicate Delta ecosystem.

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