Despite Water Crisis, Desert Golf Courses Thrive

Officials in the Coachella Valley seem reluctant to restrict water supplies to the many golf courses and ornamental lakes that dot the region, opting instead to cut water deliveries to a groundwater recharge facility.

2 minute read

January 30, 2023, 12:00 PM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

When cities like Palm Springs first sprang up in the Southern California desert, the possibilities for growth seemed limitless. As Ian James explains in the Los Angeles Times, “The entrepreneurs and boosters who decades ago built the Coachella Valley’s reputation as a playground destination saw the appeal of developments awash in water, made possible by wells drawing on the aquifer and a steady stream of Colorado River water.”

But with the Colorado River at record low levels and groundwater supplies growing short, the region may need to shift its priorities. Sendy Hernández Orellana Barrows, president of the CactusToClouds Institute, “believes becoming more climate-resilient will require making better use of water by prioritizing drinking water for communities and reducing consumption that isn’t vital.” Yet local leaders have opted to cut groundwater replenishment rather than put any restrictions on golf courses, farmland, or artificial lakes. 

According to James, “the water district’s managers anticipate securing the bulk of the reductions by curtailing water deliveries to a groundwater replenishment facility in La Quinta, where Colorado River water pours into ponds and percolates into the soil to recharge the aquifer.” Cástulo Estrada, vice president of the water district’s board, calls the plan “the easiest way, the less disruptive way” to temporarily cut back on water use. Meanwhile, critics like Hernández Orellana say future sustainability “demands switching to much lower water use” from all sectors.

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