Transcript for The Great Web of Water, segment 04 of 12


This is how the project works. As long as the soil remains dry in the fall, land leveling and other chores like pruning continue into winter months. The coming of the annual rains is unpredictable.

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Meanwhile, the northern mountains wait for boiling tropical storms from the Pacific and the huge cold air masses from Alaska to meet and clash overhead. Torrential rains will follow. Storage reservoirs like Lake Shasta are ready, drawn down far below peak levels to contain potential floodwaters.

The bared banks also indicate how much water the CVP hopes to store for use in the next long, hot summer. Recreation is incidental to the CVP's authorized functions - water supply, electric power, flood control - but millions enjoy the lakes year-round.

The great web of water is instrumented like a spaceship. As the winds whip from the northwest promising rain, data flows from the lakes and dams, the mountains and the rivers to the Bureau of Reclamation's Mid-Pacific Regional Headquarters in Sacramento. Here, the operations staff decides when to hold in check billions of gallons of rainfall and when to move water hundreds of miles from its source to areas of need.

The first rains, though they drive boaters away, hardly seem enough to raise the level of Lake Shasta one hundred feet to its four point five million acre foot capacity. Soon, however, daylong downpours of six, ten, twelve inches are falling. In the vast watershed, billions of drops are gathered to become the juice of next summer's orange, an infintesimal charge of electricity, the sweat on some workman's brow somewhere in the Great Valley, somewhere in the nation.

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While the lakes are filling, salmon and steelhead trout arrive from the ocean for spawning. At Keswick Dam, their elevator and truck are waiting. Water released from partly-filled reservoirs for these important sport and commercial fish covers downstream spawning beds. Where passage is block to the upper river, thousands go to a hatchery for artificial breeding. Others go into special manmade channels to spawn naturally.

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In very wet years, room is made in the lakes for floodwaters still coming off the watershed. Stabilization of the winter rivers cuts flood damage in the valleys below. By early spring, the rains have usually tapered off. With flood danger passing the rising lakes are now storing water for summer use. In the valley, the farmers prepare their vines and orchards. A reliable supply of irrigation water and the warm valley sun assure them of an abundant growing season.

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Spring warmth creeps up the northern mountains, melting the snow that helps fill the reservoirs. Flowing freely at last, the water reawakens the wild flowers and blossoms that signal that the Earth is stirring, ready for another season of change, growth, and abundance.

Planting begins in the valley. Soon, billions of seeds are in the damp and warming soil, and the farmer waits for the annual miracle that feeds and clothes the world. By the time the sprouts appear, the rains have ended. The soil is drying up.

In the north, the CVP lakes are as full as they're going to be this year.

The gathering of the waters is complete. The spreading of the waters through the great web can now begin.