Wednesday, August 15

The California Aqueduct

The California Aqueduct is an impressive civil engineering feat.  Built between 1962 and 1973, its sole purpose is to divert and transfer water from Northern California to the state's dry southern regions.  The main aqueduct stretches more than 444 miles, beginning in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and finishing in the dusty valleys south of Los Angeles.  Every year it transports as much as three million acre-feet of water; 70% to urban users and 30% to agricultural users.

Along its reaches a series of dams and lakes have been constructed to store excess water and assist with flood control.  The largest of these is the San Luis Reservoir, located midway between the Californian coast and the Sierra Nevada mountains.  It's also the largest of its type in the USA.  Garry and I decided to make the lake our lunch stop while driving from Monterrey to Yosemite.  This was one the longest driving days we'd planned during our entire road trip so we hoped the lake would prove a picturesque location for lunch.

However, while the vast expanse of water was impressive, its arid shoreline consisted of dull brown gravel that really wasn't a show-stopper. The heat of sun, less than 100 miles from the sea, was surprisingly intense. Our arrival also appeared to coincide with the start of powerful winds, no doubt generated by the expanding thermal currents sweeping across the lake and surrounding hills.

Instead, the compact visitor's centre proved the day's unexpected bonus.  It included some fascinating displays about the entire State Water Project (SWP).  In addition to the aqueduct, the SWP includes 17 pumping stations, 32 storage facilities, 600 miles of canals (the main aqueduct account for two-thirds of this total) and five hydroelectric power stations. California is a state of incredible contrast.

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