A Case for Coachella Conservation

As we have discussed before, the majority of Colorado River water distributed to California is allocated for agriculture. The Coachella Valley next to the Salton Sea represents one of the most productive agricultural regions in California and it is there where the majority of the water goes, with about 280,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water delivered annually. Dealing with a combination of water allocations, the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) is in a tight spot trying to meet state-mandated water use regulations while providing water to its increasing population. In response to this challenge, the CVWD has put in place various programs around the local communities to promote water conservation such as discount incentives, water use restrictions and penalties, and education workshops in water conservation.

The geographic area considered to be the Coachella Valley, on the north end of the Salton Sea. Map obtained from Coachella Valley MSHCP.

While the actions taken by CVWD to reduce urban water usage are good, urban usage only accounts for a small percentage of the total water usage in the Coachella Valley. But as is the case statewide, there is more room for improvement in the agricultural sector. There have been improvements provided by CVWD to help farmers reduce water consumption, such as the installation of drip irrigation systems to help farmers transition from the wasteful practice of flood and furrow irrigation, but what else can CVWD and other agencies do to reduce water consumption in agriculture?


In a recent visit with various owners of small farm fields around the Coachella Valley, I discovered that for some of those farmers making use of CVWD water, there is not much interest in water conservation. The majority of these farmers pay a flat rate for their water and do not seem to be overly concerned about the amount of water they are using. In this regard, those farmers could benefit substantially from a better understanding of the importance of conserving water. This is an opportunity for CVWD to substantially reduce the water footprint of the Valley through education efforts.

Aerial view of Coachella Valley agricultural lands. Image obtained from Palm Springs Life.

Nonetheless, there are other agencies working on improving agricultural water usage around the Salton Sea. For example, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has several programs to assist local farmers in building efficient irrigation systems and installing water meters to give them a better sense of their water usage. In addition, the Coachella Valley Resource Conservation District (CVRCD) has recently started a promising new project, the Root Water Project, working with Spanish-speaking farmers, an important group that deserves attention, providing them with equipment to measure the humidity in their soils with an effort to increase their knowledge about better irrigation practices.

In the end, although the Salton Sea could benefit from an increase in agricultural runoff buffered by unconscious water usage, it perhaps would be more beneficial for the region to put that water to better use or reduce water consumption evenly throughout the agricultural and urban sectors. A reduction in water consumption now might prevent the need for the enforcement of strict water regulations in the future and could allow for the development of more sustainable agriculture in California.

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