Water is a resource that everyone needs: for our homes, our businesses, our recreation and to sustain life. Did you know that underground water supplies, called aquifers, can be replenished so that water can continue to be available for everyone who relies on it? I was astounded and thrilled to learn about the planning and engineering that has been done to assure a sustainable water supply in the Coachella Valley, and I can’t wait to share this story with you.
A few weeks ago I was privileged to visit the Imperial and Coachella Valleys with the California Farm Water Coalition. We visited with farmers Al Kalin and Dennis Jensen, who generously shared their time and expertise to explain how their farming operations receive the water that allows them to grow their precious crops.
Al Kalin showed us acres of fresh carrots…ready to harvest! If you missed the first installment of my report about the tour, please visit Mimi Avocado Takes a Farm Tour with CFWC Part 1.
Our visit with Dennis Jensen included stops to see various citrus groves and a gorgeous date garden, followed by a stop at the Salton Sea to meet farmer Peter Nelson, chairman of the Coachella Valley Water Board. Don’t miss this installment of my report: Mimi Avocado Takes a Farm Tour with CFWC Part 2.
We drove north to Indian Wells, past the site of the famous Indio Date Festival, to spend the night at the Indian Wells Resort Hotel. It was fun to look around, appreciating all the famous celebrities who used to come to this retreat and golf course, founded by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez. This was the home of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic golf event. Every weekend there is a live dinner show in the restaurant and lobby lounge featuring a Frank Sinatra-style singer, transporting us to the swanky days of the 60’s “Rat Pack” era.
On the second day of our trip we were treated to a tour at Oasis Date Gardens in Thermal, Ca. The visitor’s center is open to the public, and offers free samples of the varieties of dates that are grown on the ranch. Oasis Date Gardens are certified organic, using natural fertilizers to enhance the nutrients in the soil. Our tour included a talk outside under the trees, a visit to their packing facility which operates for 2 months during the harvest every summer, and a video in their small theater. We especially enjoyed the refreshing Date Shake, a delicious mixture of dates and vanilla ice cream!
By this time I was wondering how all of the resorts, golf courses, housing developments, farms and other businesses who rely on the underground water supply would continue to function unless they could find a way to put the water back into the aquifers. We drove through some beautiful neighborhoods toward the hills, and then at the end of a paved street we drove straight up a steep dirt bank. When we arrived at the top, we could see acres of shallow lakes…empty, dirt lake-beds that had been freshly graded.
Our guide, Kenneth Gray invited us to follow him, so we continued driving up to the very highest lake in the foothills at the edge of the valley.
As we gazed over the entire Coachella Valley, we could hear the sound of water as it was pumped into the lake. As the top lake filled, the water ran to the next lake, and then into the next lake.
The bottoms of each these dirt lakes had recently been cleaned of silt and debris that had collected, and graded smooth and flat. The water in each lake can then percolate into the ground, refilling the aquifers below!
This water comes from the All American Canal as a part of the allocation for the Coachella Water District. The water is delivered daily (depending on the need) to a natural mountain lake that is used as a reservoir by the district, and then sent to the pumping station that feeds the shallow man-made lakes. It was exciting to see the pumping station with the huge water pipes and pumps, and the amazingly simple but ingenious system of determining which of the pumps must be working to handle the available water.
They even added faux windows to the pump house so that it looks nice on the side where there are neighboring homes.
On one side of the station is a huge garden of date palms…farming. On the other side is a large housing development with a golf course. I know we were all impressed with the foresight of the Coachella Valley community to approve the special tax assessments necessary to build such an amazing water replenishment system. Savvy voters knew it was important, and the local agencies worked to build a system that would sustain the community into the future. If you want to know more about it, go to the Coachella Valley Water District site to see more photos and explanation of the project.
As we drove up into the mountains to return to San Diego, we looked back on this amazing area with new eyes.
Our water supply is something that we can’t take for granted. I grew up in Vermont where it rains and snows…irrigation is rarely necessary. Here in California, water is an issue that we must address if we want to continue to enjoy our beautiful state and continue our heritage of farming to supply the world with the highest quality produce. It is important that we all know more about how a well planned water system can work, so that we can provide what is necessary for future generations to live and work in California.
I want to express my thanks to the California Farm Water Coalition for inviting me to come on this tour, especially Clare Foley and Mike Wade, our guides. I hope to learn more about the intricacies of the California water situation, and when I do I will share them! I hope that my readers have enjoyed this tour as much as our group of bloggers did!