Award Date

December 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Committee Member

Andrew Kirk

Second Committee Member

Eugene Moehring

Third Committee Member

Marcia Gallo

Fourth Committee Member

Robert Futrell

Number of Pages



The purpose of this paper is to show the link between water use, land consolidation, agribusinesses, and the water crisis that California began to experience in 2011. In order to better understand the relationship between the growth of agribusiness in the state and the evolution of water policy, this paper explores the historical context of land policy, the growth of farming in the San Joaquin Valley, and the development of federally funded water projects in the Central Valley. Years of expanding farmland and use of surface and underground water with limited regulation played an important role in exacerbating California’s water problems. The impact of corporate farming and the conversion of row crops and grazing land to crops that required abundant water year round, such as fruit and nut trees, were profound. Predictions made by early champions of the 160 acre limitation for access to publicly funded water programs came to fruition as environmental and social issues plagued the Central Valley. Efforts to divert any real change to water policy by corporate farmers and power brokers in the state were largely a success in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. However, farmers themselves began to feel the consequences caused by years of unregulated pumping from aquifers as soil salinity levels increased each year, causing salt to build up in the soil and reducing crop yields or led to collapse of aquifer systems altogether. Although the focus of this paper is on the San Joaquin Valley, attention was given to the Sacramento Valley in order to show what impact water diversion and relocation has had on the entire state. Change in water policy is necessary to stave off environmental and economic crisis that will eventually come if water continues to be used in the manner it has.


agriculture; California; capitalism; Central Valley Project; irrigation; water


Sustainability | United States History | Water Resource Management

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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