CVWD limits spray irrigation, increases turf rebate amid drought, possible surf park proliferation
Amid a debate over the water use of proposed surf parks in the Coachella Valley, the Coachella Valley Water District implemented several water conservation measures on Tuesday aimed at residential water users.
The conservation measures include a ban on outdoor water use for spray irrigation from 10 a.m. until sunset, requiring restaurants to only serve water upon request, and increasing the turf rebate amount.
The decision comes as the state is in a deepening drought after one of the driest starts to spring in decades. Almost all of California and much of the Western U.S. is in severe to extreme drought, according to U.S. drought monitor.
Coachella Valley Water District adopted the following actions from its Water Shortage Contingency Plan on Tuesday:
- Prohibition on outdoor water use from 10 a.m. until sunset for spray irrigation, except for leak checks or with an agency-approved conservation alternative plan.
- Restaurants can serve water only on request.
- Agency will actively discourage overseeding.
- Agency will expand public information campaign.
- Agency will encourage counties, cities, HOAs and other enforcement agencies to suspend code enforcement and fines for brown turfgrass areas.
Agency will increase turf rebates from $2 per square foot to $3 per square foot.
The board of directors removed "increase water waste patrols," which was initially included as a staff recommendation, from the list after Director Anthony Bianco called it "vague."
A staff recommendation to prohibit outdoor water use during daytime hours for spray irrigation was changed to only ban outdoor spray irrigation from 10 a.m. until sunset, after Bianco said a ban during daylight hours in the summer months would leave residents with very little time to water their landscaping and could result in overwatering from people overcompensating with less opportunities to water.
CVWD staff is also evaluating other possible improvements to the turf rebate that could potentially increase customer participation, such as a "direct to contractor" payment model that provides rebate payments directly to the landscape contractors to subsidize the turf conversion costs. The landscapers would need to agree to set costs of model landscape plans provided by CVWD.
What about surf parks?
The only public comment at Tuesday's meeting came from Alena Callimanis, a member of La Quinta Residents for Responsible Development and an opponent of proposed surf parks in the Coachella Valley.
"For every diversion from the canal for golf courses and wave parks, that's less water that's going to be making it to replenishment facilities. With the restaurants, the wave pool in La Quinta is 18 million gallons to fill. That's 144 million 16-ounce glasses of water in a restaurant. So there’s a lot of conservation that has to be done outside of residential or businesses with their turf or grass areas," Callimanis said.
Board President John Powell Jr. responded that the water conservation measures were for domestic water use, and that he doesn't believe any golf courses in the district use domestic water to irrigate the course. Scott Burritt, CVWD's director of service and conservation, said golf courses would need to follow the daytime watering restrictions where they use domestic water, for example if they use domestic water around the clubhouse. But if they're using private wells or recycled water, they wouldn't be subject to the restrictions.
From the dais, Bianco also expressed concerns over the surf parks.
"It's hard for me to look people in the eye and tell them you need to conserve water when there's city councils approving these (wave) parks," Bianco said.
"If it was a golf course, would you feel differently?" Powell responded.
He continued, "When somebody says, 'Why are you telling me why can't run the water while I brush my teeth, and then you're allowing somebody to put in a wave park?' Well, it's not so much about the wave park, it's about managing water wisely, it's about not wasting water... It's this wise water management and importing water that is why we're able to have a sustainable supply and a growing economy. The water management plan allows for growth."
Bianco ultimately voted in support of the water conservation measures. The board voted 4-0 to approve the measures, with Board Vice President Cástulo R. Estrada absent.
More conservation measures likely
The actions approved on Tuesday are listed as Shortage Level 2 and Shortage Level 3 actions, which are intended for "slightly limited" to "moderately limited" water supplies. Level 1 is for "normal water supplies," and the highest shortage level, Level 6, refers to a "severe shortage or catastrophic incident."
Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order on March 28 that requests the State Water Resources Control Board to require urban water suppliers to enact at least Level 2 shortage actions by May 25. Implementing the list of actions on Tuesday would satisfy this requirement, according to the CVWD staff report.
The executive order also requests that the State Water Resources Control Board consider banning irrigation of "non-functional turf" in commercial, industrial, and institutional sectors. "Non-functional turf' is ornamental turf that isn't used for recreation purposes such as sports fields and parks. CVWD staff are preparing outreach efforts to local businesses and organizations that could be impacted by this potential ban on "non-functional turf."
In July 2021, Newsom issued an Executive Order calling on all Californians to voluntarily cut water consumption by 15% from 2020 levels. Between July 2021 and February 2022, CVWD reduced domestic water production by just 2.42% compared to the same months in 2020, according to a CVWD staff report. The statewide reduction during the same time period was 6.4%.
CVWD Conservation Manager Jennifer Shimmin said that 2020 isn't a good base year for an area like the Coachella Valley that sees a large influx of tourists, because water use was lower in normal in 2020 with less visitors during the pandemic.
Three Coachella Valley water agencies were among the state's top five residential water users in January, with Myoma Dunes Water District - which serves Bermuda Dunes and part of La Quinta - ranking first. Coachella Valley Water District, which serves Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Thousand Palms, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Thermal and the Salton Sea communities, came in third, and Desert Water Agency, which serves Palm Springs and Cathedral City, ranked fifth.
During Tuesday's meeting, CVWD staff noted that other local water districts will also need to abide by the executive order, but that CVWD is the first to consider Shortage Level 2 actions at a board meeting.
Erin Rode covers the environment for the Desert Sun. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @RodeErin.