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Green lawns and water use in the desert

February 11th, 2014 | by Ian James | Comments

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The amounts of water used in Palm Springs and other cities in the Coachella Valley are drawing attention as the drought prompts comparisons of water use in different areas of California.

State data show that on a per-capita basis, residential water usage in the Coachella Valley stands out as being among the highest in the state.

The Coachella Valley Water District and the Desert Water Agency point out that their water use figures are significantly inflated by the calculation method because large numbers of tourists and seasonal residents aren’t taken into account. The agencies also note that more water typically is used to maintain yards here due to the desert climate.

Even with those caveats, the Coachella Valley’s water use figures contrast sharply with many other areas and are likely to continue to be brought up by those who advocate taking additional steps to cut down on water use. The Coachella Valley has long had some of the state’s lowest water rates.

In a 2012 report by the state Department of Water Resources, CVWD and DWA reported typical water use by their residential customers of 591 and 736 gallons per person per day, respectively.

The city of San Jose, in contrast, reported 180 gallons, while in Los Angeles, the figure was 152 gallons per person per day. The statewide average was 196 gallons per person per day.

The report was prepared while determining targets for reductions in water use, and for each water district a 10-year baseline period was selected, for CVWD from 1999 to 2008 and for DWA from 1995-96 to 2004-05. In 2010, CVWD’s average residential water use declined to 482 gallons per person per day, and for DWA the average that year declined to 604 gallons per person.

“These figures are not an accurate representation of actual water used in the Coachella Valley because they are required to be based on census data,” said Heather Engel, director of communication and legislation for CVWD, noting that part-time residents aren’t taken into account.

She said looking at the water bills the agency sends its residential customers, the household average is 18,700 gallons per month, or 623 gallons per day. That per-household figure would decline further on a per-capita basis, making for a less dramatic difference from other areas.

As the figures stand in the state’s database, CVWD and DWA come in significantly higher than other desert water districts, such as Mission Springs Water District, where the 10-year average was 327 gallons per person per day.

The state’s data show that the Colorado River region, which includes the Coachella Valley, has the highest average per-capita residential water use in the state, well ahead of other areas such as the Sacramento River region and the Tulare Lake region.

“Because we’re in the desert, we’re always going to be higher than other areas of the state,” Engel said.

Statistics from elsewhere in the Southwest show that other cities use significantly less. Las Vegas, for instance, has mandatory watering restrictions and other aggressive water-saving policies, and its water use averaged 219 gallons per person per day in 2012. In Phoenix, the typical resident used 110 gallons per day.

With other areas of the desert using less, the lush lawns and gardens that have long typified many areas from Palm Springs to La Quinta may increasingly be criticized by some as outmoded, especially as people across the state look to cut back during the drought.

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