California's Central Valley is a large, flat valley that dominates the geographical center of the U.S. state of California. It is 40 to 60 miles wide and stretches approximately 450 miles from north-northwest to south-southeast, inland from and parallel to the Pacific Ocean coast. It covers approximately 22,500 square miles about 13.7% of California's total land area (slightly smaller than the state of West Virginia). Bounded by the Sierra Nevada to the east and the Coast Ranges to the west, it is California's single most productive agricultural region and one of the most productive in the world, producing more than half of the fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in the United States. More than 7 million acres of the valley are irrigated via an extensive system of reservoirs and canals. The valley also has many major cities, including the state capital Sacramento; as well as Redding, Stockton, Modesto, Fresno and Bakersfield.
The Central Valley watershed comprises 60,000 square miles, or over a third of California. Its three main drainage systems are the Sacramento Valley in the north, which receives well over 20 inches of rain annually; the drier San Joaquin Valley in the south, and the Tulare Basin and its semi-arid desert climate at the southernmost end. The Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems drain their respective valleys and meet to form the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, a large expanse of interconnected canals, stream beds, sloughs, marshes and peat islands. The delta empties into the San Francisco Bay, and then ultimately flows into the Pacific. The waters of the Tulare Basin essentially never flow to the ocean (with the exception of Kings River waters diverted northward for irrigation), though they are connected by man-made canals to the San Joaquin and could drain there again naturally if they were ever to rise high enough.
The valley encompasses all or parts of 18 Northern California counties: Butte, Colusa, Glenn, El Dorado, Fresno, Kings, Madera, Merced, Placer, San Joaquin, Sacramento, Shasta, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Tulare, Yuba, Yolo, and the Southern California county of Kern.
The Central Valley is outlined by the Cascade, Sierra Nevada, and Tehachapi mountain ranges on the east, and the California Coast Ranges and San Francisco Bay on the west. The broad valley floor is carpeted by vast agricultural regions, and dotted with numerous population centers. Subregions and their counties commonly associated with the valley include:
North Sacramento Valley (Shasta, Tehama, Glenn, Butte, Colusa)
Sacramento Metro (Sacramento, El Dorado, Sutter, Yuba, Yolo, Placer)
North San Joaquin (San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced)
South San Joaquin (Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare, Kern County)
There are four main population centers in the Central Valley, each roughly equidistant from the next, from south to north: Bakersfield, Fresno, Sacramento, and Redding. While there are many communities large and small between these cities (see below), these four cities act as hubs for regional commerce and transportation.
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