La Quinta’s mayor and city council are taking a vote on July 5 regarding the Coral Mountain surf park development. The surf park should have been dismissed instantly and laughed out the door.
The reasons are legion. The park’s water will be fed by Colorado River water, with its two main reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, down to about 28% capacity per recent calculations by the US Bureau of Reclamation, the lead federal agency. The agency mandated that states receiving the river’s water develop an emergency reduction plan within 60 days. California receives the bulk of the Lower Basin’s Colorado River water, consuming about 4.4 million acre-feet per year. Why would anyone think a surf park using finite Colorado River water in Coachella Valley is a good idea?
River water arrives here through the Coachella Canal for our agricultural industry that brings in millions of dollars to the valley, including significant employment for vulnerable groups within our communities. Canal water is used for golf courses and to recharge our aquifer. Agriculture’s runoff water is used to recharge the Salton Sea.
The State Water Project collects water from rivers in Northern California and redistributes it to cities via a network of aqueducts, tunnels, and canals. The Coachella Valley doesn’t directly receive supplies from the State Water Project’s supply, but holds rights to the water that it swaps with Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District for its Colorado River allocation. In March, California water officials announced that they were cutting State Water Project allocations to 5% of normal levels due to drought.
If the valley loses some of its river water, and demand from projects like surf parks grows are allowed, what will this do to our agricultural interests? Which will take precedence, agriculture or a surf park, and other water-gobbling developments in the works? It is easy to imagine aquifer water will be sacrificed to make up the difference.
The aquifer is not infinite. It is supplied primarily by rain runoff and snowmelt. Snowpack usually reaches its deepest point around April 1. On April 1, 2022, the snowpack was 37% of normal for the date. Our aquifer is primarily recharged with Colorado River water. Since Colorado River allocations will soon be reduced, our aquifer will likely experience significantly more pumping out than any recharge water flowing into the aquifer.
If approved, the surf park would impact additional natural and cultural resources. The endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep would experience habitat loss and travel corridors destroyed by a 386-acre development dedicated to surfing that will bring loud noise and lighting well into the night. Desert plant communities critical to wildlife will also be lost forever. Another loss is the potential destruction of Cahuilla artifacts lying beneath the desert floor, once deep digging begins. Cahuilla Indians lived in the area for many years after ancient Lake Cahuilla evaporated. The surface water table provided groves of Honey Mesquite, a primary food source for the Cahuilla. The availability of this food staple provided a rich environment for communities to live and leave behind priceless reminders of Coachella Valley’s history.
The thread leading from wasteful, unnecessary surf park freshwater loss to significant natural and cultural resource loss is unfathomable. Elected leaders are graciously provided the privilege of representing citizens’ voices. La Quinta, our beautiful desert environment, available to all, cannot be replaced if officials choose to allow a surf park development benefitting a wealthy few.
De Karlen is a certified California naturalist (UC Riverside). Reach her at [email protected]