The Path: Assembled by Randa Cardwell

Tracing the longest path a drop of water could travel — naturally and artificially — in California requires shifting through a labyrinth of federal, state and local water systems. The following description follows a drop of water as it travels more than 600 miles unimpeded from Mt. Shasta to northern San Diego County.

Our drop of water starts as snow falling on Mt. Shasta’s summit and trickles naturally down to the Shasta Dam, home of the world’s tallest man-made waterfall. From here, the water runs into the Shasta Power Plant, one of the largest hydropower plants in California, and then rushes onto Keswick Dam, a regulating dam for Shasta Dam, and its accompanying Keswick Power Plant. Flowing down the Sacramento River, the water enters the, Red Bluff Diversion Dam and travels on out into the San Joaquin Delta (PDF), where the water is drawn out by the Harvey O. Banks Delta Pumping Plant, and into the Edmund G. Brown California Aqueduct, the largest aqueduct system in the world.

Following the aqueduct, the drop enters the O’Neill Dam & Forebay, and surges through the William Gianelli Pump Generation Plant, the B.F. Sisk (San Luis) Dam, and into the San Luis Reservoir. The water is released into the San Luis Canal, one of the largest earth moving projects in the history of the US Bureau of Reclamation, and flows by gravity to the Dos Amigos Pumping Plant and so to Kettleman City, where the Federal portion of the system ends and the State takes over.

Defying gravity, the drop travels up hilly terrain, pushed by three pumping plants, the Buena Vista, Teerink, and Chrisman until it reaches the AD Edmonston Pumping Plant, where it is lifted 1,926 feet, the highest single lift pumping in the world, over the Tehachapi Mountains.

The waterway now splits and our water drop chooses the East branch, the main route, to the Alamo Power Plant, then uphill again (540 feet) thanks to the Pearblossom Pumping Plant, and down to the Mojave Siphon Power Plant, and so for a rest in Lake Silverwood. The well traveled drop is then released into the Devil Canyon Power Plant. Traveling underground, the Santa Ana Pipeline (28 miles) transports the water toLake Perris, a popular recreation spot south-east of Riverside, where the controlling agency becomes the Metropolitan Water District. From Lake Perris, the drop gushes through the Lakeview Pipeline to the San Diego canal into the Hiram Wadsworth Forebay (PDF), which serves as a regulating pond for the Pumping Plant.

The water now surges through underground pipes into the Diamond Valley Lake, from where it returns to the Wadsworth Forebay (PDF) and back into the San Diego canal, which runs into Lake Skinner. Our traveling drop is now treated at the Robert A. Skinner Filtration Plant, the main source of drinking water for the San Diego region, and nice and fresh it pushes through San Diego Pipeline No. 4, to the North San Diego County communities of Fallbrook and Rainbow, and to Temecula in South Riverside County.

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