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The San Joaquin Valley ( ) is the area of the Central Valleymarker of Californiamarker that lies south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Deltamarker in Stocktonmarker. Although most of the valley is rural, it does contain urban cities and suburbs such as Fresnomarker, Bakersfieldmarker, Visaliamarker, Stocktonmarker, Tularemarker, Portervillemarker, Turlockmarker, Hanfordmarker, Modestomarker, Maderamarker, and Mercedmarker.


San Joaquin Valley
The San Joaquin Valley extends from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Deltamarker in the north to the Tehachapi Mountains in the south, and from the various California coastal ranges (from the Diablomarker in the north to the Santa Ynezmarker in the south) in the west to the Sierra Nevada in the east. Unlike the Sacramento Valley, the river system for which the San Joaquin Valley is named does not extend very far along the valley. Most of the valley south of Fresno instead drains into Tulare Lakemarker, which no longer exists continually due to diversion of its sources. The valley's primary river is the San Joaquin, which drains north through about half of the valley into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Deltamarker. The Kings, and Kern rivers are in the southern endorheic basin of the valley, all of which have been largely diverted for agricultural uses and are mostly dry in their lower reaches.

Geological History

The San Joaquin Valley began to form about 65 million years ago during the early Paleocene era. Broad fluctuations in the sea level caused various areas of the valley to be flooded with ocean water for the next 60 million years. About 5 million years ago, the marine outlets began to close due to uplift of the coastal ranges and the deposition of sediment in the valley. Starting 2 million years ago, a series of glacial episodes periodically caused much of the valley to become a fresh water lake. Lake Corcoran was the last widespread lake to fill the valley about 700,000 years ago. Today, only Buena Vista Lake remains, but if all the world's glaciers melted, then the San Joaquin Valley would once again be subject to oceanic flooding.


The San Joaquin Valley has hot, dry summers and cool rainy winters characterized by dense Tule fog. Its rainy season runs from November through April but further north the rainy season runs a bit longer.

The National Weather Service Forecast Office for the San Joaquin Valley is located in Hanfordmarker and includes a Doppler weather radar. Weather forecasts and climatological information for the San Joaquin Valley are available from its official website.



Historian Kevin Starr has referred to the San Joaquin Valley as "the most productive unnatural environment on Earth." By some estimates, 12.8% of the United States' agricultural production (as measured by dollar value) comes from California, and the majority of that is in the San Joaquin Valley. Grapes—table, raisin, and to a lesser extent wine—are perhaps the valley's highest-profile product, but equally (if not more) important are cotton, nuts (especially almonds and pistachios), citrus, and vegetables. The J. G. Boswell Company's farming operation in Kings County is the largest single cotton farm in the world, occupying over . Certain places are identified quite strongly with a given crop: Stockton produces the majority of the asparagus consumed in the United States, and Fresno is credited as the birthplace of the raisin.

In spite of its agricultural productivity, the San Joaquin Valley has the state's highest rate of food insecurity.

Cattle and sheep ranching are also vitally important to the valley's economy. During recent years, dairy farming has greatly expanded in importance. As areas such as Chinomarker and Coronamarker have become absorbed into the suburban sprawl of Los Angeles, many dairy farmers have cashed out and moved their herds to Kings, Tulare, and Kern counties. Since dairy farms emit considerable quantities of methane and other pollutants, this has exacerbated the region's air quality problems. In addition, several high-profile incidents in which farmhands have drowned or suffocated in manure pits have led to calls to slow the proliferation of dairies in the region, with Kern County going so far as to declare a moratorium on new dairies in 2004.

Between 1990 and 2004, 28,092 hectares (70,231 acres) of agricultural land was lost to urban development in the San Joaquin Valley. In an effort to confront the problem of urban sprawl, the eight Valley counties are participating in a "regional blueprint planning process" that may result in denser developments and more public transportation.


California has long been one of the nation's most important oil-producing states, and the San Joaquin Valley has long since eclipsed the Los Angeles Basin as the state's primary oil production region. Small oil wells are found throughout the region, and several enormous extraction facilities – most notably near Lost Hillsmarker and Taftmarker, including the enormous Midway-Sunset Oil Field, the third-largest oil field in the United States – are veritable forests of pumps and derricks.

Shell operates a major refinery in Bakersfield; it is currently (summer 2005) in the process of being sold to Flying J, a Salt Lakemarker-based firm that operates truck stops and refineries. The oil and gas fields in Kern County are receiving increased attention since the July 2009 announcement by Occidental Petroleum of significant discovery of oil and gas reserves Even prior to this discovery the region retains more oil reserves than any other part of California. Of California fields outside of the San Joaquin Valley, only the Wilmington Oil Field in Los Angeles County has untapped reserves greater than 100,000,000 barrels, while six fields in the San Joaquin Valley (Midway-Sunset, Kern River, South Belridge, Elk Hillsmarker, Cymric, and Lost Hills) each have reserves exceeeding 100,000,000 barrels of oil.

Other major industries and employers

The isolation and vastness of the San Joaquin Valley, as well as its poverty and need for jobs, have led the state to build numerous prison in the area. The most notable of these is Corcoranmarker, whose inmates include Charles Manson, Sirhan Sirhan, and Juan Corona. Other correctional facilities in the valley are at Avenalmarker, Chowchillamarker, Tracymarker, Delanomarker, Coalingamarker, and Wascomarker.

The only significant military base in the region is Naval Air Station Lemooremarker, a vast air base located WSW of Hanfordmarker. Unlike many of California's other military installations, NAS Lemoore's operational importance has increased in the 1990s and 2000s. The other, Castle Air Force Basemarker, located near Atwatermarker was closed during the Base Realignment and Closure of the 1990s. Although both are in Kern County, Edwards Air Force Basemarker and China Lake Naval Air Weapons Stationmarker are located in the High Desert area of that county.


The United States Census Bureau issued a report entitled the American Community Survey in 2007, which found that six San Joaquin Valley counties had the highest percentage of residents living below the federal poverty line in 2006. The report also revealed that the same six counties were among the 52 counties with the highest poverty rate in the United Statesmarker.


Ethnic and cultural groups



While the barrios of East Los Angelesmarker are California's most famous areas dominated by persons of Mexicanmarker ancestry, both first-generation Mexican immigrants and well-established Chicanos are important populations in the San Joaquin Valley. Since the onset of the bracero program during World War II, virtually all of the agricultural workers in the region have been of Mexican ancestry. Ethnic and economic friction between Mexican-Americans and the valley's predominantly white farming elite manifested itself most notably during the 1960s and 1970s, when the United Farm Workers, led by César Chávez, went on numerous strike and called for boycotts of table grapes. The UFW generated enormous sympathy throughout the United States, even managing to terminate several agricultural mechanization projects at the United States Department of Agriculturemarker. However, from the 1970s onward, farmers have mostly hired undocumented immigrants, preferred for their willingness to work longer hours for lower pay. Today, Chicanos are somewhat better integrated into the valley's economic framework.

European and Asian groups

The San Joaquin Valley has—by California standards—an unusually large number of European, Middle Eastern, and Asian ethnicities in the heritage of its citizens. These communities are often quite large and, relative to Americans immigration patterns, quite eclectic: for example, there are more Azorean Portuguese in the San Joaquin Valley than in the Azores. Many groups are found in majorities in specific cities, and hardly anywhere else in the region. For example, Assyrians are concentrated in Turlockmarker, Dutchmarker in Riponmarker, Sikhs in Stocktonmarker and Livingstonmarker and Yugoslavs in Delanomarker. Kingsburgmarker is famous for its distinctly Swedishmarker air, having been founded by immigrants from that country. Ethnic groups found in a broader area are Portuguesemarker, Armeniansmarker, Basques, and the "Okies" who migrated to California from the Midwest and South. Since the early 1970s East Indians of predominantly Punjabi, Gujrati and Southern India have settled in the valley communities. Most recently large numbers of Pakistanpeoplesmarker have settled in Modesto and Lodimarker. In addition, the late 1970s and 80s saw an influx of immigrants from Indochina following the War in Vietnam. These immigrants, the majority of whom are Hmong, Laotian, Cambodian, and Vietnamese, have settled in the communities of Stockton, Modesto, Mercedmarker, and Fresnomarker. The Filipino American population is concentrated in Delano and Lathrop.

These cultures are often the result of established ethnic communities and groups of immigrants coming to the United States at once. This is in part due to the founding of religious communes in the San Joaquin Valley: for example, the first permanent Sikh Gurdwara was founded in Stockton in 1915.

Okies and Arkies

The Depression-era migrants to the San Joaquin Valley from the South and Midwest are one of the more well-known groups in the Central Valley, in large part due to the popularity of John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath and the Henry Fonda movie made from it. By 1910, agriculture in the southern Great Plainsmarker had become nearly unviable due to soil erosion and poor rainfall. Much of the rural population of states such as Kansasmarker, Texasmarker, Oklahomamarker, and Arkansasmarker left at this time, selling their land and moving to Chicagomarker, Kansas Citymarker, Detroitmarker, and fast-growing Los Angelesmarker. Those who remained experienced continuing deterioration of conditions, which reached their nadir during the drought that began in the late 1920s and created the infamous Dust Bowl. (Small cotton farmers in states such as Mississippimarker and Alabamamarker suffered similar problems from the first major infestation of the boll weevil.) When the onset of the Great Depression created a national banking crisis, family farmers—usually heavily in debt—often had their mortgages foreclosed by banks desperate to shore up their balance sheets. In response, many farmers loaded their families and portable possessions into their automobiles and drove west.

Taking Route 66 to Barstowmarker or Los Angeles and crossing the Tehachapimarker or Tejonmarker passes, they began new lives as fruit and vegetable pickers on truck farms in the San Joaquin Valley. Having gone from the relative independence of homesteading to a condition that was essentially peasantry, many of them lived in squalid agricultural camps and were deeply unhappy with their economic plight; domestic disputes, crime, and suicide were rampant, and occasional riots broke out. New Deal measures alleviated some of these problems, albeit belatedly: by the time that The Grapes of Wrath drew public attention to the Okies' plight, many of them had already left the valley. Those that didn't were assimilated into California culture and society where they and future generations became noted tradesmen, educators, legislators and professional business people.

Many of the Okies and Arkies left the San Joaquin Valley during World War II, most of them going to Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diegomarker to work in war industries. Many of those who stayed ended up in Bakersfieldmarker and Oildalemarker, which became an increasingly important center of oil production after major Southern California oil fields such as Signal Hillmarker began to dry up. Their influence remains strong: Bakersfield resembles a West Texas town such as Midlandmarker or Lubbockmarker far more than it does anywhere else in California. Country music legends Buck Owens and Merle Haggard came out of Bakersfield's honky-tonk scene and created a hard-driving sound that is still deeply associated with the city.

Recent changes

The California real estate boom that began in the late 1990s has significantly changed the San Joaquin Valley. Once distinctly and fiercely independent of Los Angeles and San Francisco, the area has seen increasing exurban development as the cost of living forces young families and small businesses further and further away from the coastal urban cores. Stockton, Modesto, and Tracy are increasingly dominated by commuters to San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and the small farming towns to the south are finding themselves in the Bay Area's orbit as well. Bakersfield, traditionally a boom-bust oil town once described by urban scholar Joel Kotkin as an "American Abu Dhabimarker," has seen a massive influx of former Los Angeles business owners and commuters, to the extent that gated communities containing million-dollar homes are going up on the city's outskirts. Wal-Martmarker, IKEA, Target and various large shipping firms have built huge distribution centers at the far southern end of the valley, lured by the convenience of Route 58 and the region's low wages. Further integration with the rest of the state is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

The town of Mountain House is one of the latest planned communities in the valley. Its master plan envisions a city with a population of 45,000 before 2025. Quay Valley is proposed to be an even larger new city will have up to 45,000 jobs plus 50,000 homes along with a with a water park,theme park,50,000 seat speedway, that would be located on about in the southern part of Kings County. A population of 150,000 is estimated at project build-out in 25 years after it break ground. Proponents describe Quay Valley as a sustainable model city that would maximise use of solar power. They make the claim that Quay Valley residents may never see an electric bill.


The San Joaquin Valley is home to several institutions of higher education, the most well-known being California State University, Fresno marker and University of the Pacificmarker. The University of California, Mercedmarker campus began classes in 2005. Other than Fresno, the California State University system also maintains campuses at Bakersfield (CSU Bakersfieldmarker) and Turlock (CSU Stanislausmarker). There are numerous community colleges as well.



Interstate 5 (I-5) and State Route 99 (SR 99, or just "99") each run along the entire length of the San Joaquin Valley. I-5 runs in the western valley, bypassing major population centers (including Fresno, currently the largest U.S. city without an Interstate highway), while 99 runs through them. State and federal representatives have long pushed to convert 99 to an Interstate, although this cannot occur until all of the portions of 99 between I-5 and the U.S. 50 junction are upgraded to freeway standards.

State Route 58 (SR 58), which is a freeway in Bakersfield and along most of its route until its terminus in Barstowmarker, is an extremely important and very heavily traveled route for truckers from the valley and the Bay Area who want to cross the Sierra Nevada and leave California (by way of Interstate 15 or Interstate 40) without having to climb Donner Passmarker or brave the traffic congestion of Los Angelesmarker. Proposals have also been made to designate this highway as a western extension of I-40 once the entirety of the route between Mojavemarker and Barstow has been upgraded to a freeway. This would provide an Interstate connection for Bakersfield, currently the second-largest U.S. city without an Interstate. The most recent additions to this system are State Highway 168 and 180. Route 168 begins at Fresno on Route 180 linking to Huntington Lake in the mountains through Clovis and many smaller communities. This route is part of the California Freeway and Expressway System[2] and is eligible for the State Scenic Highway System[3]. State Route 180 is a state highway in California, United States, which runs through the heart of the San Joaquin Valley from Mendota through Fresno to Kings Canyon National Park. A short piece near the eastern end, through the Grant Grove section of Kings Canyon National Park, is not state-maintained. The part east of unbuilt State Route 65 near Minkler is eligible for the State Scenic Highway System; the road east of Dunlap is the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, a Forest Service Byway.

Other important highways in the valley include State Route 46 (SR 46) and State Route 41 (SR 41), which respectively link the California Central Coast with Bakersfield and Fresno; State Route 33, which runs south to north along the valley's western rim and provides a connection to Venturamarker and Santa Barbaramarker over the Santa Ynez Mountainsmarker; and State Route 152 (SR 152), an important commuter route linking Silicon Valleymarker with its fast-growing exurbs such as Los Banosmarker.


Amtrak provides rail service through the San Joaquin Valley. There are also plans for a high-speed rail line that will link the valley with San Franciscomarker, Los Angelesmarker, Sacramentomarker, and San Diegomarker. While many valley politicians and businesses are eager supporters of the line, eager to provide better connections to the larger and wealthier cities to the north and south, large and vocal factions in cities such as Modesto and Stockton have opposed the line due to adverse impacts such as increased noise. Even if the project were to be approved, construction would probably not begin until 2010 at the earliest.


A now large port for oceangoing cargo ships is present in Stockton, which is connected to the San Francisco Baymarker by way of a deepwater channel along the San Joaquin River Delta. Congestion at the Port of Los Angelesmarker and the Port of Long Beachmarker, which together account for the majority of container traffic in the United States, has led to calls for further development of the port.

Unlike the Sacramento River, the San Joaquin River has never been navigable much past Stockton. This was a significant factor in the San Joaquin Valley's slow 19th-century development.


Hemmed in by mountains and rarely having strong winds to disperse smog, the San Joaquin Valley has long suffered from some of the United States' worst air pollution. This pollution, exacerbated by stagnant weather, comes mainly from diesel and gasoline fueled vehicles and agricultural operations. Population growth has caused the San Joaquin Valley to rank with Los Angelesmarker and Houstonmarker in most measures of air pollution. Only the Inland Empiremarker region east of Los Angeles has worse overall air quality, and the San Joaquin Valley led the nation in 2004 in the number of days with quantities of ozone considered unhealthy by the Environmental Protection Agency. Groundwater purity is an ongoing issue in this valley including the Turlock Basin. San Joaquin County has better air quality than any other region in the San Joaquin Valley, while the Sacramento region and Stanislaus County have the worst.

Water pollution is another significant problem in the valley. Soil salination in heavily irrigated areas has significantly reduced the viability of some of the valley's most fertile tracts, especially those in the Tulare lake bed.

Medical interest

San Joaquin Valley Fever is an older term for what is more properly known as coccidioidomycosis, a fungal infection caused by Coccidioides immitis.

Cities and counties

Cities with more than 500,000 inhabitants

Cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants

Cities with 20,000 to 100,000 inhabitants

Cities with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants

List of counties

Other related articles


  1. 2007 Overview - Agricultural Statistical Review - California Agricultural Resource Directory 2008–2009
  2. Direct link to audio file.
  3. Paving Paradise: A New Perspective on California's Farmland Conversion, American Farmland Trust, November 2007
  4. Fresno Bee, December 30, 2007
  5. 2006 California Department of Conservation, 2006 Oil and Gas Statistics, p. 4
  6. Fresno Bee, August 29, 2007
  8. Los Angeles Times, Novemer 14, 2008

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