California's Pipe Dream

California's Pipe Dream

Teach about California’s water supply problems, the complexity of the state’s water transport system, and the conflicts of interest that complicate the issue.


5 - 8


Conservation, Earth Science, Engineering, Geography

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Morgan Stanley

Idea for Use in the Classroom

Explain California’s water crisis to students. While 70 percent of the state’s freshwater supplies are in Northern California, 80 percent of the demand is in Central and Southern California. Using the map, explain the problems with this scenario and the complexity of efforts to correct them. (Examples: Most rivers are in the north, agricultural areas are in the center of the state, the California Aqueduct provides main transport to south, and most water is supplied by human-made systems.) Use the map to introduce students to California’s sophisticated water transport system, which consists of canals, dams, reservoirs, pumping plants, and aqueducts. Distinguish between these features and define the purpose of each.

Have students use sources to explore population growth statistics for California. Stress how population growth expands industries, increases agricultural demands, and stresses environmental resources—all of which increase the demand for water. Use the following source from the Water Education Foundation to explain about California’s climate and the extended periods of drought that further stress the water supply.

Then explain that conflicting political interests have led to “water wars” within the state. Hold a debate to help students explore these “water wars.” Divide students into three groups. Have one group represent the farmers in California’s Central Valley, another urban industrialists, and the third, environmental conservationists. Ask them to research issues affecting their assigned group. Then have them present their positions in class and debate from their groups perspective.

Media Credits

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Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
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Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Last Updated

December 13, 2023

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