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Do You Know Where Your Water Comes From, Coachella Valley?

Posted by Morgan Miles Craft On 3:08 PM
by Morgan Craft
In a 2007 survey by the California Department of Water Resources, eighty percent of respondents in Southern California believed that their water comes from area wells, despite the fact that the region imports more water than any other place in the world.

The Coachella Valley averages only three inches of rainfall each year, yet we boast more golf courses per square mile that anyplace else in the country. Retail centers, home developments and hotels boast lakes and rivers, and green grass grows wherever you cast an eye. Water supports a $500 million agriculture industry in the valley, with over 60,000 acres under cultivation. Despite the economic downturn, the valley is projected to increase to six hundred thousand residents by 2020, or 75,000 additional households, and water access and usage is going to be an increasingly difficult issue. (Click to read on...)

Water management is necessarily a huge task here in the desert. Valleywide, our water is managed by four main entities: the Desert Water Agency (DWA), the Mission Springs Water District, the Imperial Irrigation District, and the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD). And our water is cheap: some communities in LA County pay up to three times as much for water as we do.

We in the Coachella Valley actually do have a huge well beneath us, but we’re using far more water than is naturally put back in by seasonal runoff. The region’s principal water source, the Coachella Valley Aquifer, extends from Whitewater in the northwest to the Salton Sea in the southeast. All drinking and other domestic water comes from the aquifer. Due primarily to an ongoing drought and a ballooning population, water experts say that our well is in an extended period of overdraft. A 2003/04 CVWD engineering report concluded that the Whitewater River sub-basin is overdrawn at a rate of 70,132 acre-feet, or nearly 23 billion gallons, per year.

To counter this overdraft, the Coachella Valley imports water via three methods: The Colorado River Aqueduct, The Coachella Canal via the All-American Canal, and transferred rights to San Joaquin Delta/State Water Project water from the Metropolitan Water District in LA. To resolve the absence of direct service to the Palm Springs area from the Delta (there’s no direct link), the Desert Water Agency trades its State Water Project water allotment with the Metropolitan Water District for its Colorado River allotment, which is delivered to recharge basins located near Windy Point, and by Highway 62 at Indian Avenue for Desert Hot Springs. Since 1973, Colorado River Aqueduct water has been used to supplement natural replenishment in the valley’s west end, up to 330,000 acre feet per year. In drought years, the allotment is sometimes zero.

New Facility to Recharge Coachella Aquifer in La Quinta


In October, the CVWD dedicated a new strategic aquifer recharge facility, in south La Quinta. The overdraft of groundwater has been significantly higher on the east end of the valley primarily due to rapid development and the ongoing agricultural operations there, and this new facility is meant to help counter that by returning the amount of water used by 40,000 households each year into the earth. According to the CVWD, and assuming the Colorado River tap stays flowing, in 30 years the groundwater level in the eastern Coachella Valley could be an estimated 25-105 feet higher than it currently registers.

State Senator John Benoit (R – Bermuda Dunes), addressing the opening of the Levy Groundwater Recharge Facility said, “This is a strategically key asset as we move forward in a state increasingly challenged by water – an issue which should be important to all of us.”

The new facility uses Colorado River water delivered to the valley via the 123-mile Coachella Canal to Lake Cahuilla in La Quinta. From Lake Cahuilla the water continues by gravity flow through an existing irrigation pipeline to two 422,000-gallon reservoirs at the Levy Facility's pump station. Water is then pumped up to 39 percolation basins, spread over 163 acres on land CVWD purchased from the Torres-Martinez tribe.

Tom Kirk, Director of the Coachella Valley Association of Governments, says “It’s a key element in guaranteeing the water supply of the Coachella Valley for future generations.”

Coachella Valley Water Agencies:
CVWD (www.cvwd.org): Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, Thousand Palms, Parts of Cathedral City
DWA (www.dwa.org): Palm Springs, parts of Cathedral City, Whitewater, North Palm Springs
MSWD (www.mswd.org): Desert Hot Springs
IID (www.iid.org): La Quinta, Indio, Mecca, Coachella, Thermal, Sky Valley, Bermuda Dunes

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