Special Reports

Better year for water expected, what does it mean for Coachella Valley?


Patrick Evans looks into surplus...

THOUSAND PALMS, Calif. - California is having a banner year for rainfall, but we wanted to know how all that rain will impact the water supply here in the Southland. Here in the Coachella Valley we have gotten over four inches of rain since January 1! Drought conditions across the state are improving thanks to the heavy rains and snow in northern California, but what does that mean for our communities.

What you're looking at is a "recharge pond", one of 19 that collect imported water and funnel it back into our aquifer, the large underground reservoir that the desert sits atop. The rushing water is music to the ears of valley residents, who have endured years of dry weather, and increasing water restrictions because of the drought. Now water is flowing again, but from a source that may be surprising... The Colorado River.

"Exactly, you may have noticed for the last few years there's been nothing running under the bridge at Whitewater, that's because all that water that would normally come to us has been dedicated to Los Angeles for the drought. They needed the surface water supply, we didn't because we've already banked water into our underground," said Robert Keeran from the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD). 

That imported water is COMING indirectly from the snow pack, thanks to an agreement with the Metropolitan Water District in Los Angeles. The Coachella Valley's allotment from the State Water Project--a series of rivers, reservoirs, and pipelines--arrives in San Bernardino, where the Metropolitan Water District receives it. In exchange, we get the Metropolitan's allotment of Colorado River water, in an even swap.

Better still, in relatively wet years, LIKE THIS ONE… the Coachella Valley gets "bonus" water, more than our regular allotment from the Colorado River, which means we can bank water into the aquifer against future use in drier years.

"It's a bucket for bucket exact exchange. That's how the agreement originally worked, today, it's not only a bucket for bucket exchange but also a few buckets for the future and when it's dry they take back a few buckets, "said Keeran.

So the bigger question is just how much water is in the aquifer? That's a bit harder to quantify.

"Back in the early 1960's the California Department of Water Resources came out and tried to measure the amount of water that was here, and they estimated it at about 39,000,000 acre feet of water in the first 1000 feet of the aquifer," said James Barrett, general manager of the CVWD. 

That amount would equal 1 foot deep of sitting water over 39,000,000 acres.... Which would cover more than 1/3 of the entire state of California!

Much of the water that is transported via the State Water Project comes from the snowpack in the Sierra, and that's why measuring the snow pack is so vital to water interests in Southern California. In recent years, the snowpack has been terribly below average, but this year, that's not the case.

"Depending on which metric you use, there's a 5 station and an 8 station metric, but both of them are forecasting, or at least estimating there to me more than 100 percent, and I think one of them is estimating 200 percent of the average snowpack we would see at this time of year," said Barrett.

Despite the lessening of drought conditions across the state, there are still water restrictions in place at the state level, with which local water agencies must comply. And those restrictions can result in restriction of how consumers YOU can use water.

"We have complied with the latest version of those restrictions, which allow us to look at our supply and what our three driest years would be, and whether we could continue to meet the demands that we have here, they call that the stress test," said Barrett.

The wet weather also has an impact on wildfire season. In the short term, wet weather obviously reduces fire danger...

But as we move toward drier weather in the fall, more foliage may mean more fuel for wildfires. I spoke with Captain Fernando Herrera from Riverside County Fire, and he says that 100 feet of defensible space will be vital for homeowners to maintain, especially in the mountainous areas of Southern California. here on the desert floor, dense brush growth is expected, which can also create brush fire hazards.

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