The Coachella Valley Must Act to Maintain Local Control of Water Policy

By: Craig Kessler, Special to The Desert Sun

Perception is reality in politics, never more so than when the subject is water.

If the Coachella Valley learned nothing else from the last statewide drought crisis it was this: The facts of the matter didn’t matter much when it came to how Sacramento treated the valley.

Those who live, work, farm and play golf in the valley understand that the desert’s water supply is secured by sources almost entirely separate from the State Water Project and unrelated to seasonal rains and snows. It is secured by an aquifer that is among the richest and deepest in the world, as well as federally guaranteed allocations from the Colorado River.

Unlike many of California’s other groundwater basins, particularly those in the Central Valley and along the Central Coast, the aquifer that sits beneath the Coachella Valley has been managed with long-term sustainability in mind for generations, and it is ahead of the Coachella Valley Water Management Plan’s self-imposed 2020 deadline for stasis.

Of course, none of this prevented the Coachella Valley from being lumped in with the urban water districts that really are dependent upon seasonal rains and the State Water Project when it came time to impose 36 percent cutbacks. And it’s not going to matter with respect to the features of the recent “emergency” that are in the process of being made permanent, nor is it going to matter when the next “emergency” is tolled by the State Water Resources Control Board.

Whether the subject is the details of the Groundwater Management Act, mandatory conservation protocols, or permissible landscape palettes, the order of California’s political day is centralization of authority in Sacramento. It’s not always direct authority. It’s more often the threat of substituting state control for local control when the state determines that the locality has failed to meet the state’s minimum standards as prescribed by separate regulation or legislation.

Thus, it is very much in the interest of everyone who lives, works, farms or plays golf in the valley to prevent that substitution. Complaining about the unfairness of it won’t prevent it. The desert’s fate is inextricably intertwined with the rest of the state, and the rest of the state is in a world of hurt.

As much as we would like to think that it’s the bone dry years that are the exception, the facts say otherwise. It’s the wet winter that’s the exception. So is what we used to call the normal winter.

One credible scientific study after another is revealing that the past 130 years have been among the wettest and most stable in California history. Those same studies are revealing that droughts of 10 and 20 years have been common in the last millennium, and a couple of them have lasted multiple generations.

In short, California has constructed an infrastructure to support 40 million souls and the sixth-largest economy in the world based upon rain and snow expectations that we are now discovering were anything but normative. The fact that this has nothing to do with the Coachella Valley is irrelevant. Coming to terms with that contradiction, unfair though it may be, is going to be key to keeping a measure of local control over water management here in the Coachella Valley.

Craig Kessler is government affairs director for the Southern California Golf Association and the chair of the CVWD Golf and Water Task Force. Email him at