According to this interesting article from the New York Times, it's larger than 9 American states. It is the largest patch of Class 1 Soil in the world (i.e., the best for agriculture). More than 230 kinds of crops and produce are grown there, and the output represents 8% of the nation's agricultural output (on 1% of the land). Around 6.8 million people live there, and the average per capita income is lower than most of the rest of the country (it has three of the five poorest cities), and unemployment is far higher. It is California's Great Valley, my home.
I've long heard that only 5% of the valley remains in the natural state that existed prior to agricultural development, and from the air, this is obvious. All the times I've flown over it, I have been struck by the continuous patchwork of plowed fields (it clearly resembles the kinds of blankets my grandmother used to make out of the leftover fabric squares). There are a few tracts of undeveloped grasslands off to the south, but for the most part only the rivers retain much of their original vegetation, but only in a few places.
Today's photos come from three distinctly different parts of the valley's river systems. In the colorful top photo, we can see a portion of the Sacramento Delta, where the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers come together in a maze of islands that have been mostly converted to farmlands. The islands are protected (somewhat) from seasonal floods by a series of poorly constructed levees that are subject to destruction from even moderate earthquakes. This has set up what potentially could end up as California's worst possible natural disaster (at least in the monetary sense). The islands have been sinking due to groundwater withdrawal, soil loss, and oxidation of organic material in the soils. Most of them are now below sea level, with only the vulnerable levees keeping them from being flooded. Since the intake pumps for the California Water Project lie in the midst of these islands, broken levees will draw salt water into the delta, where the domestic water supply for most of the southern state is tapped. An earthquake has the capability to disrupt the state water system for several years.
see my take on these ARkstorms here).
San Luis National Wildlife Refuge and Great Valley Grasslands State Park. The land is not entirely unaffected...decreased flows caused by reservoirs and diversions upstream have caused many of the swampy areas to dry up. Efforts (and negotiations) are ongoing to increase river flows in a hope of rebuilding the disrupted ecosystems, especially those of the salmon which used to be common in these waters.
The Airliner Chronicles is one of my on-again/off-again serial features, which is usually updated whenever I fly somewhere.