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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Climate and Land-Use Controls on Surface Water Diversions in the Central Valley, California


California’s Central Valley (CV) is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, enabled by the conjunctive use of surface water and groundwater. We investigated variations in the CV’s managed surface water diversions relative to climate variability. Using a historical record (1979−2010) of diversions from 531 sites, we found diversions are largest in the wetter Sacramento basin to the north, but most variable in the drier Tulare basin to the south. A rotated empirical orthogonal function (REOF) analysis finds 72% of the variance of diversions is captured by the first three REOFs. The leading REOF (35% of variance) exhibited strong positive loadings in the Tulare basin, and the corresponding principal component time-series (RPC1) was strongly correlated (ρ > 0.9) with contemporaneous hydrologic variability. This pattern indicates larger than average diversions in the south, with neutral or slightly less than average diversions to the north during wet years, with the opposite true for dry years. The second and third REOFs (20% and 17% of variance, respectively), were strongest in the Sacramento basin and San Francisco Bay−Delta. RPC2 and RPC3 were associated with variations in agricultural- and municipal-bound diversions, respectively. RPC2 and RPC3 were also moderately correlated with 7-year cumulative precipitation based on lagged correlation analysis, indicating that diversions in the north and central portions of the CV respond to longer-term hydrologic variations. The results illustrate a dichotomy of regimes wherein diversions in the more arid Tulare are governed by year-to-year hydrologic variability, while those in wetter northern basins reflect land-use patterns and low-frequency hydrologic variations.

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