The Coachella Valley Water District faces hefty challenges each day: providing water for more than 1,200 ag customers on 65,000 acres in a desert environment.
The water district serves San Diego, Imperial and Riverside counties and nine cities.
“I would say managing our water on a long-term basis, optimizing our Colorado River water and groundwater and using them as efficiently as possible are major priorities for us,” said Katie Evans, director of communications for the district.
The Coachella Valley’s farmland is one of the largest contributors to the local economy, known for its dates, citrus fruit, grapes and bell peppers. More than two-thirds of local farmland is irrigated in part with Colorado River water delivered via the Coachella Canal.
The canal and the water district deliver about 260,000 acre-feet of water annually to some of the most productive farms in the world. The value of crops irrigated with this water exceeds of $730 million annually.
Other top producing crops are lettuce, watermelon, artichokes, sweet corn, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower and turf grass. Agriculture is the second largest contributor to the local economy after tourism.
“Depending on the location of their land, farmers have two options for irrigation,” Evans said. “They can drill a well or choose a location that connects with the Coachella Canal.”
The 123.5 mile canal — a branch of the All-American Canal — was completed in 1949. Water is diverted at the Imperial Dam north of Yuma, Ariz., to the Coachella Canal. It is lined with concrete to prevent water loss from seepage.
The water is also used for groundwater replenishment, landscape irrigation and other non-potable uses.
The water district’s underground tile drainage system is designed to carry saline groundwater and percolated agricultural irrigation water from farmland to the Salton Sea. Evans said this system has nearly 2,500 miles of on-farm and district-maintained drains.
Effective drainage disperses harmful salts that accumulate in soils over time and manages groundwater levels.
The district oversees the “big picture” of water projects in the area.
“We have an agricultural water advisory group that meets to oversee water efficiency,” Evans said. “We facilitate the meeting along with a website.”
If the USDA and the California Food and Agriculture offer grants to ag customers the Coachella Valley Water District helps to spread the word. However, the water district doesn’t offer rebates that some entity already has in place.
Most farmers call to order water. Evans said they are extremely conscious of water use and its conservation.
“In the desert, we have to treat water supply management like a marathon and be efficient with our use regardless of the year’s rainfall,” she said. “Efficient use is everyone’s responsibility and key to our ability to sustaining our environment and our economy.”