Despite the vastness of the region, the great majority of the population of the western United States resides in large urban clusters. As these populations have grown their demand for water has increasingly siphoned the resource from agriculture. No where is this trend more true than in California.
And now the flames of conflict between urban and agricultural water use in the state are being fanned by the demands of another player, the federal government.
Water is the lifeblood of California. And in a state that is both the nation's most populous and its most agriculturally productive, the valuable commodity has long been the source of ingenuity and conflict.
As the PBS documentary "Cadillac Desert" reported in 1997, an unquenchable thirst for water in the American west led to Herculean projects, such as the Los Angeles Aqueduct and the Hoover dam… both the largest engineering feats of their time.
Now the federal government is proposing the largest farm-to-city water transfer in U.S. history.
In an effort to lessen the Golden State's drain on the Colorado River, The Bureau of Reclamation has agreed to pay more than 100-million dollars to landowners in the central valley to stop farming some 34,000 acres because of severe water drainage problems.
It would be the largest buyout of farmland in the bureau's 100-year history and could lead to even larger land retirements in the coming years totaling as much as 200,000 acres.
The proposal would effectively lessen California's consumption by shifting water currently used by farmers in the desert to urban customers in and around San Diego.
The interior department claims that unless California lessens its demand on the Colorado, the state will lose 800,000 acre-feet of water beginning January 1st. That's enough water for 1.6 million households.