How Water Gets From the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the Rest of California

Strong storms and cold temperatures are the right ingredients for a deep snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which provides water for about 23 million Californians from the Bay Area to Southern California. So how does all that water actually travel hundreds of miles through the Bay Area and Central Valley to Southern California?

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CA DWR
Right, a serpentine stretch of the California Aqueduct in Palmdale, Calif. within Los Angeles County at mile post 327.50. Photo taken February 7, 2014. Left, part of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
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California Department of Water Resources
Before we get to the California Aqueduct, here's where California's water lifeline starts -- a snow-covered Sierra Nevada mountain peak. This view is to the northwest from the Phillips Station meadow where the California Department of Water Resources conducted its third snow survey of the winter 2017 season. Photo taken March 1, 2017.
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AP
Here's a look at conditions in the Sierra Nevada, Thursday, March 30, 2017, near Echo Summit, Calif. The location is where the California Department of Water Resources holds its manual snow survey at nearby Phillips Station. In late March 2017, the water content was at 183 percent of normal.
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AP
The snowpack is so important, California water resources managers keep a close eye on it. Frank Gehrke, right, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, lifts the survey tube out of the snowpack depth during the manual snow survey at Phillips Station, Thursday, March 30, 2017.
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AP
Water from snowmelt cascades down the South Fork of the American River on May 1, 2017, near Echo Summit. The warming springtime temperatures in California melt the state's snowpack, sending water into rivers and streams from the Sierra Nevada Mountains. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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California Department of Water Resources
When the mountain snow melts, it runs downhill in rivers and stream, eventually ending up in the State Water Project. This view is looking north from the California Aqueduct Vista Point, an exit off the southbound 5 Freeway near Exit 423/Stuhr Road in Stanislaus County west of the Sierra Nevada range. Photo taken March 4, 2013.
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California Department of Water R
Another view looking north from the California Aqueduct Vista Point in Stanislaus County. This photo was taken July 23, 2015, two years after the previous image during California's recent dry spell.
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Paul Hames / California Department of Water Resources
This is an aerial view of the California Aqueduct near Tracy, California. It is the location of a 108-inch diameter interconnect pipeline in the ground between the California Aqueduct, to the left, and the Delta-Mendota Canal, which is part of the Central Valley Project. Photo taken April 20, 2012.
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California Department of Water R
Another aerial view of the "intertie" constructed between the Delta-Mendota Canal and the California Aqueduct near Tracy. Photo taken April 20, 2012. Paul Hames / The California Department of Water Resources
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John Chacon / California Department of Water Resources
The California Aqueduct is pictured in Alameda County, just north of the Bethany Reservoir.
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California Department of Water R
As we head south, the California Aqueduct runs through the brown, dry hills of Newman in July 2015.
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California Department of Water Resources
A pastel sky over the California Aqueduct in the San Joaquin Valley. Photo taken April 10, 2014.
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AP
This undated file photo released by the California Department of Water Resources shows water making its way south through the Central Valley by way of the California Aqueduct.
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Getty Images
Part of the east branch of the California Aqueduct, which imports water from the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
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Getty Images
The California Aqueduct passes through the Dos Amigos pumping plant on April 24, 2015 in Los Banos, California.
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California Department of Water R
The California Aqueduct near Highway 166 south of Bakersfield. Photo taken December 13, 2012. Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources
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California Department of Water Resources
In Kern County, the California Aqueduct is seen at sunset.
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John Chacon / California Department of Water Resources
This moonlight view is looking south toward the Tehachapi Mountains in Kern County.
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John Chacon / California Department of Water Resources
Twilight falls over Kern County and the California Aqueduct.
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California Department of Water R
The California Aqueduct splits into the West Branch and East Branch as it travels into the Southern California region.
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California Department of Water Resources
The California Aqueduct bifurcates in the West Branch and East Branch as it travels into the Southern California region at the border of Kern and Los Angeles Counties. Photo taken February 6, 2014.
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Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources
Another view of the California Aqueduct as it separates into the East Branch (left) and West Branch (right). Photo taken February 6, 2014.
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California Department of Water Resources
The California Aqueduct just north of the A.D. Edmonston Pumping Plant looking west. Photo taken 1992. Dale Kolke / California Department of Water Resources
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California Department of Water R
In this April 1965 photo, a California Department of Water Resources survey crew works at a preliminary construction site for the Pearblossom Pumping Plant in Los Angeles County. The plant was constructed from 1967 to 1973, and lifts water about 540 feet as part of the Eastern Branch of the California State Water Project. The plant is located at 3,479 feet, the highest point along the California Aqueduct. Photo taken April 2, 1965.
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Bob Dunn / California Department of Water Resources
Construction at the Pearblossom Pumping Plant in Los Angeles County. Photo taken April 2, 1965.
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California Department of Water R
This view is just east of the Pearblossom Pumping Plant in Los Angeles County. Photo taken April 17, 2007. Dale Kolke / California Department of Water Resources
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Dale Kolke / California Department of Water Resources
Here's a modern day view of the Pearblossom Pumping Plant area in Los Angeles County. Photo taken April 17, 2007.
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Getty Images
A segment of the 444-mile long California Aqueduct north of Los Angeles.
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Getty Images
A segment of the California Aqueduct north of Los Angeles.
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Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources
A submerged car is found in the East Branch Aqueduct near Palmdale, California in Los Angeles County. Photo taken October 26, 2015.
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California Department of Water R
Erosion along the California Aqueduct after a severe rainstorm hit the Antelope Valley in Los Angeles County on October 15, 2015. Photo taken October 26, 2015.
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Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources
Workers excavate mud and debris in a section of the East Branch of the California Aqueduct. A mudslide blocked the aqueduct on Oct. 15, 2015, after a severe rainstorm in the Antelope Valley of Los Angeles County. Photo taken October 26, 2015.
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Bob Mortensen / California Department of Water Resources
A survey crew near the site of the future Devil Canyon Powerplant and Afterbays part of the Eastern Branch extension. The powerplant was constructed between 1969 and 1974, near the mouth of Devil Canyon in San Bernardino County. Photo taken January 26, 1966.
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Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources
Another stretch of the California Aqueduct East Branch in Palmdale. Photo taken on February 7, 2014.
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California Department of Water R
Another view of the winding stretch of the California Aqueduct in Palmdale. Photo taken February 7, 2014.
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Getty Images
The California Aqueduct carries water from the Sierra Nevada Mountains through the high desert communities north of Los Angeles.
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Getty Images
The California Aqueduct carries water from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to southern California. A segment the aqueduct is pictured in May 2008 near Palmdale.
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Getty Images
The California Aqueduct carries water from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Southern California. This picture is near Palmdale in May 2008.
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Getty Images
The California Aqueduct carries water from the Sierra Nevada Mountains in May 2008 through Palmdale to other parts of Southern California.
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California Department of Water R
This stunning aerial image shows a serpentine stretch of the California Aqueduct in Palmdale. Photos taken on February 7, 2014. Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources, FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY
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CA Department of Water Resources
This aerial view looks north toward Pyramid Dam and Pyramid Lake located on Piru Creek in Los Angeles County. The reservoir provides emergency storage for deliveries from the West Branch Aqueduct. It's also a popular recreational site for Southern Californians. Photo taken May 9, 2014.
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John Chacon / California Department of Water Resources
A warning sign along the California Aqueduct East Branch. This location is where Highway 138 crosses the Aqueduct near the community of Neenach in Los Angeles County. Photo taken April 25, 2013.
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Getty Images
Another view of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which carries water from the snowcapped Sierra Nevada Mountains to the Los Angeles area.
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Getty Images
Separate from the California Aqueduct network is the the Los Angeles Aqueduct, built and maintained by the the LADWP. Unlike most of the water collected from the Sierras, the LA Aqueduct receives its water from runoff on the eastern side of the mountains. Here, it is seen with snowcapped Sierra Nevada Mountains in the background, carrying watter to major urban areas of southern California on May 9, 2008 near Lone Pine.
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