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Water officials hope to avert crisis By Lukas Velush The Desert Sun November 2, 2000
The Coachella Valley, thirsty to maintain growth that will see its population double by 2035, is already experiencing a water shortage.
A local water district hopes its new 35-year Coachella Valley Water Management Plan, to be released today, will quench the valleyBs water needs and recharge an over-pumped aquifer.
BIf we donBt do something to stop the overdraft, the water level is going to keep dropping,B said Steve Robbins, the Coachella Valley Water DistrictBs assistant to the general manager.
The document prepared by the district, which provides water to all valley cities except Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Indio and Coachella, is meant to be a planning document for the entire valley, Robbins said. The Desert Water Agency, which serves Palm Springs and is the other major water district in the valley, was consulted in the development of the plan.
According to the report, if current groundwater-pumping rates are not reduced and recharge of the aquifer is not increased, the following will occur:
Wells will have to get deeper and deeper, making it more expensive to pump groundwater. Eventually, wells will begin to dry up.
The quality of groundwater that can be pumped will decline, making it more expensive to treat. Eventually, much of it will become unusable.
Subsidence, the ground dropping in elevation because groundwater is pumped out of it, will occur. Subsidence already is occurring in small portions of Palm Desert, Indian Wells and near La Quinta, according to a recent U.S. Geological Survey report.
The districtBs ambitious plan aims to avoid all of that, and to allow for growth, in part by calling on the valleyBs water users -- residential, agriculture and golf courses -- to adopt aggressive conservation techniques.
The plan calls for a 10 percent reduction in residential water use by 2010, a 7 percent reduction in agriculture use by 2015 and a 5 percent reduction in golf-course use by 2010.
The goal is to eventually have all golf courses and farm land switched over to Colorado River water pumped in by the Coachella Canal or to recycled wastewater. Most farm land already uses canal water.
But even if water conservation is implemented to the fullest extent possible, there still wonBt be enough water to allow for growth and to recharge the depleted aquifer, Robbins said.
That means new water must be secured, a daunting proposal considering power players such as Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and San Diego County Water Authority are searching for new water. And the U.S. Department of Interior is forcing California to reduce its use of Colorado River water.
Still, the Coachella Valley actually looks to gain Colorado River water under a plan for California water users to reduce their use of river water.
There also is potential to obtain outside water. The State Water Project ships water from Northern California, where fresh water is plentiful, to Southern California.
Coachella Valley Water District also plans to treat and reuse some farm-runoff water that runs into the Salton Sea.
BWe built the plan around what we think we can get,B Robbins said of the new, nongroundwater sources the district hopes to tap into. BThese are not pie-in-the-sky numbers.B
The Coachella Valley currently uses about 669,000 acre-feet of water per year. Under that scenario, the valley would need 825,000 acre-feet per year to recharge the aquifer by 2035, provided water conservation is used across the valley, including using recycled wastewater on golf courses and for landscaping.
At that time, the amount pumped out of the aquifer would be equal to the amount recharged.
A family of five uses an acre-foot of water each year.
The per-year cost of implementing the plan averages out to about $35 million, Robbins said.
Under the worst-case scenario -- taking no action and having the courts reduce water use to what the aquifer can sustain -- the collective economic impact could be $500 million per year. That accounts for lost growth, lost jobs and more-expensive water.
Lukas Velush can be reached at 778-4625 or by e-mail at Lukas.Velush@thedesertsun.com
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), November 02, 2000