California Irrigation: The Dammed

Essay by ataste4thegoodstuffUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, December 2004

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California's lack of water is a concern for many people. The use of irrigation techniques must be controlled to help reduce pollution of water resources, destruction of land, and the devastation effects it has on the population. Water has been critical in the shaping of the human history. It has shaped institutions, destroyed cities, set limits to expansion, brought feast and famine, washed away sickness, divided nations, and disposed of garbage (Worster 19).

Prior to 1848, California was almost entirely undeveloped. There were missions and some ranches along the coast with a few settlers dispersed out in the interior valley's (Harding 2). In 1849, George Horatio Derby, a topographical engineer for the United States Army was dispatched to survey the Great Central Valley's farming potential (Haslam 192). While there was a small amount of irrigation, the streams were uncontrolled, not dammed. Large areas were under water during flood periods and higher lands were regularly dry each year when the moisture from the winter rains had been exhausted.

The first irrigation in California occurred at the missions. The earliest irrigation recorded was from the San Diego River for the San Diego Mission in 1770 (Dept. of L.A.&W.). The San Juan Capistrano Mission in 1776, the San Luis Rey Mission in 1789, and the San Fernando Mission in 1797 were also involved with irrigation to support the community. However, the biggest amount of mission irrigation was at the San Diego and Santa Barbara missions. The dam on the San Diego River was 12 feet high and 245 feet long, built in the 1770's (Harding 3). The remains of the diversion dam and portions of its six-mile conduit to the mission can still be found.

The first federal census conducted in California in 1860 counted 308,000 residents - the population had almost tripled...