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 is in overdraft; we currently pump out more from the aquifer than we percolate back in. Read the CVWD-DWA The State of the Coachella Valley Aquifer (PDF) for more information.

Groundwater Replenishment

To alleviate groundwater overdraft, Coachella Valley Water District and Desert Water Agency oversee four groundwater replenishment facilities. 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 program has percolated billion gallons of water back into the aquifer. This has been possible thanks to a supply of imported water from the Sacramento Bay Delta and the Colorado River, as well as entitlements to captured snow melt from the San Gorgonio Mountains.

At the same time, the District secures increased supplies of imported water for replenishment, it 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 Coachella Valley Water District’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 large parcel (5 acres or more) 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 valley’s western aquifer 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 valley 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 side of the valley remained largely undeveloped at the time.

Increasing Imported Water

In the late 1960s, with its eye on the future growth of the Coachella Valley, CVWD joined the State Water Project (SWP), as did Desert Water Agency (DWA). Combined, the 2 agencies today hold an SWP entitlement of 194,100 acre-feet per year, equal to the 3rd largest entitlement in the state.

In 1973, CVWD and Desert Water Agency began using their combined entitlements to the State Water Project to replenish the western Coachella Valley’s aquifer at the Whitewater Spreading Area, northwest of Palm Springs. Today, modern facilities divert stormwater, natural runoff from nearby mountains and water released from the Colorado Aqueduct into the riverbed.

During the first 35 years, the two agencies replenished more than 2 million acre-feet of water. However, regulatory restrictions and water shortages in the Sacramento Bay Delta have limited the districts’ access to its imported water entitlements in recent years. The agencies also cooperatively operate the Mission Creek Replenishment Facility, west of Desert Hot Springs.

With farms using imported water for 2/3 of their needs, a manageable domestic demand in the western valley, and groundwater overdraft in the eastern Coachella Valley no longer a concern, the district 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 the district 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.

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, replenishment assessment charges (RAC) levied on cities, farmers, golf courses and others that annually pump more than 25 acre-feet of groundwater in the area were authorized for funding of construction and operation of replenishment projects.

In June of 2009, the new Thomas E. Levy Groundwater Replenishment Facility began percolating imported Colorado River water into the eastern subbasin of the Coachella Valley’s aquifer.

Named after a former CVWD general manager, the La Quinta facility replenishes 40,000 acre-feet of water annually into the eastern Coachella Valley’s aquifer. This amount of water is approximately what is used each year by 40,000 households.

The Coachella Valley Water Management Plan (PDF) calls for an expansion of groundwater replenishment in coming years.

What You Can Do

  • Reduce your household’s water usage, especially outdoors, to make the biggest impact on groundwater overdraft. 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.