California's Central Valley is a large, flat valley that covers approximately 22,500 square miles at the heart of the state. The valley runs broadly parallel to the Pacific coast, is 450 miles long and ranges between 45 and 60 miles wide. It is completely surrounded by mountainous terrain on all sides.
The Central Valley is home to numerous population centers, such as Bakersfield, Fresno, Stockton and Sacramento, the capital of California. More than 6.5 million people live in this region, and the area is one of the fastest growing in the United States.
The valley is incredibly fertile, producing a quarter of all food consumed in the United States each year. More than 300 crops are grown there, and the annual value of agricultural output in the valley is estimated to be more than $17 billion.
The Valley was once home to vast lakes, floodplains, swamps and rivers. Over the course of time, most of these water bodies have been drained to make way for agricultural land or forced into artificial channels in order to prevent flooding and to provide irrigation and drinking water. Despite these changes, the Sacramento River remains the second largest river in the continental United States to empty into the Pacific Ocean. It is largely fed by rains and melting snow originating in the western Sierra Nevada.