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Picture Story – California Water

The Sacramento - San Joaquin River Delta area supplies water to all of Northern California and most of Southern California. Eighty percent of the water, however, is used for agriculture by a large section of California known as the Central Valley. Here, during the winter of 1996, a worker checks one of thousands of sprinklers that spray 24 hours a day, for several weeks, to pre-irrigate the fields during the months of January and February. Pre-irrigation is critical for crops to survive the harsh summer. (Photo/Greg Stidham)
We take many things for granted in life – a glass of fresh water to drink is one. However, for Californians, this relies heavily on the health of the Sacramento / San Joaquin River Delta. Farming, recreation, commerce, and even a fresh pot of coffee would not exist without this reliable supply of water.

With my work documenting the California water system and the California Delta, including these photographs I made while on staff at Contra Costa Newspapers in 1996, I try to examine the many conflicts plaguing the area as well as photograph the beautiful aspects and people of this region that could be lost if care is not taken.

Close to 400 ships traveled the waterways of the Sacramento - San Joaquin River system in 1995 carrying a variety of cargo including agricultural fertilizer, livestock feed, and newsprint. Here, the Morning Orchid travels along the Sacramento River and passes under the Rio Vista Bridge dwarfing a pair of onlookers. (Photo/Greg Stidham)

Hollywood duck club member Frank Belleci operates a double acting gate valve allowing water to flow from Wells Slough onto the club's wetland habitat near Fairfield, California during the winter of 1996. The club must monitor the salt content of the water weekly, sometimes daily, closing the gates to keep salty water from the Sacramento River and Grizzly Bay out. (Photo/Greg stidham)

A Cotton Picker machine harvests cotton near Coalinga in California's Central Valley farming belt during the autumn of 1995. Cotton is a water intensive crop, but also one of the most lucrative for farmers here in Kern and Kings counties. (Photo/Greg Stidham)

A Delta Smelt is measured by a California Dept. of Fish and Game employee on the Sacramento River during the winter of 1996 near the town of Rio Vista, California. (Photo/Greg Stidham)

A pair of bass fishermen search for their prize on a cool winter morning in 1996 along waterfront property at Del's Harbor near Tracy, California in the southern Delta. Since the introduction of massive water pumps nearby for the federal water project in the 1950's, fishing has gradually declined causing business to dry up. (Photo/Greg Stidham)

California Dept. of Fish and Game employees use a net to capture fish in the Sacramento River near the town of Rio Vista, California during a routine fish count in the autumn of 1995. The catch may include American Shad, Catfish, and the threatened Delta Smelt. Biologists use this exercise to count the number of fish which can be used as a gauge on the health of the Delta. (Photo/Greg Stidham)

A pair of fishermen prove their right to fish by displaying their fishing license to a Fish and Game Warden with the Delta Bay Enforcement Enhancement Project during a patrol in the Mokelumne River near Hwy 12 February 9th, 1996. The program, also known as D-BEEP, patrols the delta by land and water investigating and arresting poachers of delta fish. (Photo/Greg Stidham)

Coleman Fishery Biologist Roger Shudes looks at a group of fall late run Chinook Salmon yolk-sac fry at the Coleman National Fish Hatchery in Anderson, California during the early winter of 1996. The eggs take fifty days in fifty degree water to hatch and grow to this stage and another seven and a half months before reaching the smolt life stage when they will be released into the Sacramento River. (Photo/Greg Stidham)

Five thousand Silver Salmon eggs pour out of an adult late fall run female at the Coleman National Fish Hatchery in Anderson, California during harvesting operations in the winter of 1996. Salmon populations have been dwindling and some believe that large amounts of water exported south of the Delta is the reason. (Photo/Greg Stidham)

River fishing guide Jay Sorenson teaches a pair of clients how to fish for striped bass during the winter of 1996 at a secret location along the Sacramento River near Sherman Island north of Antioch. (Photo/Greg Stidham)

Children hold a lantern while their father tends to the fire during an autumn family fishing trip in 1995 along the Sacramento River. The Stockton family fishes on the weekends using the fish caught to feed themselves during the week. (Photo/Greg Stidham)

Fish Biologist Scott Siegfried cleans debris from the secondary fish louvers before removing predator fish, such as striped bass and catfish, at the Tracy Federal Pumping Plant fish screens near Tracy, California during the winter of 1996. Louvers are used to keep fish out of the main pump's intake channel and also for separating the fish so they can be transferred back to the Sacramento River. (Photo/Greg Stidham

A worker with the Army Corp. of Engineers unloads, literally, tons of debris found in the Delta and San Francisco Bay during a two day period in the winter of 1996. Keeping the waterway clear is important in reducing possible accidents by ship and ferry traffic which would harm the delicate ecosystem. (Photo/Greg Stidham)

Evening commuters cross over the Sacramento River during a cool winter evening in 1996 as they travel home on Hwy. 160 near Isleton Calif. (Photo/Greg Stidham)

A Great Blue Heron searches for breakfast during the autumn of 1995 amongst debris and garbage littering the Sacramento River shoreline near Walnut Grove, California. (Photo/Greg Stidham)

A visitor takes in the vast view of the San Luis Reservoir near Santa Nella, California during a clear winter morning in 1996. Water from the delta via the State Aqueduct canal and the federal Delta Mendota canal are pumped and stored in this two million acre foot capacity reservoir before distribution to farmers and cities further south. (Photo/Greg Stidham)

In 1913 water was diverted from here at Owens Lake to Southern California via a 338 mile pipeline called the Los Angeles Aqueduct. Sixteen years later the lake was completely drained, it's water replaced with arsenic laden dust blowing through the town of Keeler on the shoreline. Here the residents left this sign as a satirical reminder of how things once were and perhaps a message to those who choose not to value their natural resource of water. (Photo/Greg Stidham)

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