Groundwater Replenishment & Imported Water

Groundwater Overdraft

The Coachella Valley’s annual average of 3 inches of rain along with snowmelt from surrounding mountains is not nearly enough to naturally replenish what is pumped from the local groundwater basin to meet water demands. Consequently, the Coachella Valley groundwater basin was in overdraft for many years, more water was pumped out from the aquifer than was percolated back in.  Today, the Coachella Valley groundwater basin is balanced (sustainable yield) due to implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) and the SGMA Alternative Plans for the Indio Subbasin Water Management Plan Update and the Mission Creek Subbasin Water Management Plan Update.

Groundwater Replenishment

Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) and Desert Water Agency (DWA) jointly operate two groundwater replenishment facilities in the western Coachella Valley, and CVWD operates two additional groundwater replenishment facilities in the central and eastern Coachella Valley. Artificial replenishment, or recharge, is one of the most effective methods available for preserving local groundwater supplies, reversing aquifer overdraft and meeting demand by domestic and commercial water consumers.

CVWD and DWA's groundwater replenishment programs have percolated billions of gallons of water into the aquifer. This has been possible due to a supply of imported water from the State Water Project and the Colorado River, as well as long-term water rights to stream flows in the Whitewater River and its tributaries.

At the same time, CVWD secures increased supplies of imported water for replenishment, asks customers to reduce their demand by being water-efficient in their homes, yards, gardens and businesses.

Replenishment Assessment Charge

The Replenishment Assessment Charge (RAC) partially funds CVWD’s groundwater replenishment program. There are 3 separate RACs based on geography, because the costs and benefits of the replenishment programs also vary by geography. Use the Groundwater Replenishment Assessment Charge Areas of Benefit map (PDF) to determine which of the three RACs you are interested in learning more about.

Choose the area where your parcel is located.

History of Groundwater Management

Decline in the valley’s water table was first noted in the 1910s, when local residents and farmers, concerned that their artesian wells were drying, formed a public water district. The Coachella Valley County Water District was established in 1918 under provisions of what is now known as the California Water Code. In 1979, it dropped “County” from its name and became known as the Coachella Valley Water District.

All wells in the Coachella Valley at the time were privately owned and operated. With a rapid increase in well pumping due to agricultural expansion, it was feared that wells would run dry as the water table dropped.

The Coachella Valley’s earliest groundwater replenishment efforts in the 1910s involved capturing fast-moving flood waters during storms and using that flow to replenish the Indio Subbasin at Windy Point, northwest of Palm Springs.

Water Importing

With plenty of foresight, CVWD’s original leaders realized groundwater management alone would not be enough to ensure continued, adequate supplies of agricultural irrigation water for the region in coming decades. In 1919, CVWD's directors approved contracts with the federal government for importation of Colorado River water into Coachella Valley for farm irrigation.

Bringing imported water to the region required a massive waterway that did not yet exist. In 1928, the Boulder Canyon Act authorized construction of Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, Imperial Dam, All-American Canal and the 123-mile Coachella Branch of the All-American Canal.

The Coachella Canal was completed in 1948. For the next 30 years, groundwater levels in the eastern part of the Indio Subbasin recovered as local farmers used Colorado River water instead of groundwater to transform the eastern half of the Coachella Valley into California’s third largest agricultural region. The western half of the valley remained largely undeveloped at the time.

Increasing Imported Water and Replenishment in the Western Coachella Valley

In the late 1960s, with its eye on the future growth of the Coachella Valley, CVWD joined the State Water Project (SWP), as did DWA. Combined, the two agencies today hold a SWP entitlement of 194,100 acre-feet per year, the 3rd largest entitlement in the state. At the same time, CVWD and DWA entered into an agreement with Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) to exchange water from MWD’s Colorado River Aqueduct, which crossed the western Coachella Valley near Whitewater, for CVWD and DWA allocations of State Water Project water.

In 1973, CVWD and DWA began using their combined entitlements to the State Water Project Exchange Water to replenish the Indio Subbasin in the western Coachella Valley at the Whitewater Spreading Area, northwest of Palm Springs, now known as the Whitewater River Groundwater Replenishment Facility. The agencies also cooperatively operate the Mission Creek Replenishment Facility, west of Desert Hot Springs under a joint management agreement that became effective in 2003. Modern facilities divert stormwater, natural runoff from nearby mountains, and water released from MWD’s Colorado River Aqueduct into these two replenishment facilities for groundwater recharge.

During the first 35 years, the two agencies replenished more than 2 million acre-feet of water. However, regulatory restrictions and drought have limited the districts’ access to its imported water entitlements in recent years. 

With farms using imported water for 2/3 of their needs, a manageable domestic demand in the western portion of the valley, and groundwater overdraft in the eastern Coachella Valley no longer a concern, CVWD seemed poised for slow growth through the 1970s. But rapid urbanization in excess of population forecasts was on the horizon. From 1980 to 2000, the total population served by CVWD tripled to more than 200,000 residents. Tourism soon outpaced agriculture as the valley’s leading industry. Like it had decades earlier, water demand sharply increased and groundwater levels began to decline.

In 1976, CVWD and DWA entered a joint agreement to cooperatively implement the West Whitewater River Subbasin Management Area Groundwater Replenishment Program. In 1978 and 1980, respectively, DWA and CVWD levied a charge on groundwater producers in the western Coachella Valley who pump 25 acre-feet per year or more to help cover costs of importing water and replenishing the aquifer. The groundwater assessment is called the Replenishment Assessment Charge (RAC) and is authorized by California Water Code Sections 31630-31639.

An additional groundwater replenishment facility in the southeastern portion of the West Whitewater River Subbasin Management Area was constructed and went online in 2018. Phase 1 of the Palm Desert Groundwater Replenishment Facility has been fully operational since February 2019 and replenishes the Indio Subbasin in the central Coachella Valley.
A RAC was also levied in the Mission Creek Subbasin in 2002 when DWA and CVWD began replenishing the Mission Creek Subbasin at the Mission Greek Groundwater Replenishment Facility near Desert Hot Springs.

Groundwater Replenishment in the Eastern Coachella Valley

In 1994, CVWD began extensive scientific modeling and a pilot groundwater replenishment program in the eastern Coachella Valley. When the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) (PDF) was signed in 2003 by CVWD, Imperial Irrigation District, the Metropolitan Water District and the San Diego County Water Authority, one result was the district could now access an additional 35,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water via the Coachella Canal and apply it to groundwater replenishment, among other uses.

Beginning in 2004, a RAC was levied in the eastern Coachella Valley to fund construction and operation of a replenishment facility needed in the eastern Indio Subbasin.

In June of 2009, the Thomas E. Levy Groundwater Replenishment Facility (TEL) began percolating imported Colorado River water into the Indio Subbasin. Named after a former CVWD general manager, the La Quinta facility has capacity to replenish 40,000 acre-feet of water annually into the groundwater aquifer in the eastern Coachella Valley’s. This amount of water is approximately what is used each year by 40,000 households.

In 2005, CVWD completed construction of a pilot replenishment facility on the Martinez Canyon alluvial fan in the southwest portion of the Indio Subbasin, at the western end of Avenue 72. The results from this pilot project indicate the location is not ideal for groundwater replenishment. Deliveries of replenishment water to this pilot project ceased in 2013. However, CVWD continues to monitor and evaluate the need for and feasibility of a replenishment facility on the Martinez Canyon alluvial fan.

What You Can Do

  • Reduce your household’s water usage, especially outdoors, to have the greatest water savings. Businesses and workplaces can also conserve significantly by repairing leaks and managing their outdoor water use.
  • Share with your neighbors. Large landscape customers, such as homeowner associations, make up a small percentage of CVWD customers, but collectively they use almost one-third of the domestic water. Schedule an informational meeting with your neighbors and a CVWD representative to discuss water conservation in your community. Call 760-398-2651 or email us.
  • Learn more. Group tours of CVWD’s groundwater replenishment facilities are available year-round upon request by calling 760-398-2651.