Current Trends in the Central Valley
Though many things influence land use change, population growth is the engine that drives it. It is no secret that California’s population is growing rapidly. And the Central Valley is among its fastest growing regions. Between 1990 and 2000, the Valley’s population increased almost 784,000, from just under 4.0 million to about 4.8 million. That’s a 20 percent increase -- more than half again as fast as the rest of California, which grew 13 percent during the same decade. To put the Valley’s rate of growth in further perspective, it’s as if the cities of Sacramento, Modesto and Visalia, starting from nothing –- or, rather, fertile farmland -– grew to their present sizes in just a decade.
No part of the Valley was immune from rapid population growth. Though the greatest numerical growth occurred in the counties that were already the most populous, those with the fewest people at the beginning of the decade grew by the largest percentages. 
Ninety percent of the population in the Valley lives in cities and other urban areas. This hasn't changed much over time. Concentrating people in or immediately around existing urban areas is generally a good way to conserve farmland. But in the Central Valley most cities are located along the Highway 99 corridor in the midst of the region's highest quality farmland. [See maps] As we shall see, growth around these cities has contributed to a disproportionate loss of the region's best farmland. If this pattern continues, it will place a high premium on accommodating the Valley's projected population growth as efficiently as possible.
[Go to next section: Farmland Trends]
 In Madera and Kings Counties, population growth may be inflated by a significant population of inmates at several new prisons constructed during the 1990s. This would also tend to exaggerate the efficiency of development during that period.
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