California Central Valley

From Academic Kids


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The California Central Valley
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A typical Central Valley scene

The California Central Valley is a large, flat valley that dominates the central portion of the state of California.

Bounded by the Cascade Range to the north, the Sierra Nevada to the east, the Tehachapi Mountains to the south, and the Coast Range and San Francisco Bay to the west, this valley is a vast agricultural region drained by the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. The northern area (north of the Mokelumne River and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta) is called the Sacramento Valley; the southern area is called the San Joaquin Valley.

Nineteen counties are commonly associated with the Central Valley stretching for nearly 400 miles from north to south. The area is further subdivided into four regions: North Sacramento Valley (Shasta, Tehama, Glenn, Butte, Colusa), Sacramento Metro (Sacramento, El Dorado, Sutter, Yuba, Yolo, Placer), North San Joaquin (San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced), and South San Joaquin (Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare). Fresno is the largest city followed closely by the state capital, Sacramento. Bakersfield, Stockton, and Modesto are the other large cities in the region. About 5.7 million people live in the Central Valley today.

The Valley is renowned for its extreme flatness, in contrast to the rugged hills that are typical of most of California's terrain. It is thought to have originated as the floor of an inland sea, when sea levels were much higher than they are today.



The Sacramento and San Joaquin River flow through the northern and southern halves of the valley, respectively. Major tributaries of these two rivers include:

Sacramento Valley

San Joaquin Valley

Major cities

Major cities in the Central Valley include Redding, Chico, Sacramento (California state capital and the Valley's largest metropolitan area), Stockton, Fresno (largest city proper in the Valley) and Bakersfield.

Culture and politics

Culturally and politically, the Central Valley is very different from the rest of California. While the huge coastal cities are well-known for their liberal politics, the Valley (and most other rural areas) are quite conservative. Some enclaves, such as Chico, are more generally liberal than the rest of the Valley, but the surrounding Butte County is typically conservative. The city of Sacramento is also more liberal than the Valley norm, but its surrounding suburbs, particularly in Placer and El Dorado Counties, are conservative.


The Central Valley Project was formed in 1935 to redistribute and store water for agricultural and municipal purposes with dams and canals. The Central Valley has become famous around the world as the home of California's giant agriculture industry; the fertile soil is also thought to have originated from the days when the valley was a sea floor. There are also some large cattle and livestock ranches.

Because of its physical remoteness, the Valley is also home to many California Department of Corrections institutions.

Social issues

Since the 1980s, Bakersfield, Fresno, Tracy and Modesto have exploded in both size and population, as housing values along the coast reached astronomical values and drove many California residents inland in search of the most important component of the American dream -- homeownership. Many people from the San Francisco Bay Area have moved out to more rural areas in search of affordable housing, clogging the roads between their Valley homes and their Bay Area jobs.

Unfortunately, these cities (along with Sacramento) have been confronted by big city problems including violent crime, drug trafficking, organized crime, traffic congestion, and air pollution. The San Joaquin Valley now has the worst air quality in California (and the highest asthma rates), and its cities are subject to the most stringent anti-pollution measures in the state. Some people also worry that the rapidly expanding urban sprawl will completely displace agriculture (as happened in the Santa Clara and San Fernando Valleys).

External links

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Capital Sacramento
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