CVIndependent

Mon07222019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Kevin Fitzgerald

The Grub Plug food truck was parked by the Oasis Street curb in front of the College of the Desert’s Indio campus late in the day on a Tuesday.

The city of Indio’s Community Development Department (ICD) was offering the first 120 visitors to their Indio Specific Plan open house—taking place in the college’s main-building lobby—a free food-truck meal, along with the chance to learn information on how to start a food-truck business of one’s own. All the ICD team wanted in return was for each visitor to walk through the display of a half-dozen white boards placed on easels, depicting photos and artist renderings of residential, entertainment-venue and business building options. Visitors were asked to place a colored dot on the images they most liked or disliked.

Judging from the lengthy lines both inside and next to the Grub Plug truck, the marketing strategy was a success, as Kevin Snyder—Indio’s recently hired community development director—and his team look to create a master plan that will guide the redevelopment of Indio’s struggling downtown area.

“In the planning profession, we do things more in a visual (context),” said Snyder, a veteran of similar challenges in cities across northern California, Washington, Oregon and Arizona. “At our first open house, we had a few pictures up, and we just talked to people who came in, and wrote down their comments. This time, we wanted to make (the experience) more interactive, so we produced these illustration boards.”

If you visit downtown Indio today, you’ll experience an often-attractive neighborhood with a traditional Southwest/midcentury-modern architectural look—and a sleepy, deserted feeling. Snyder and his team are planning to change that whole vibe.

“For many, many years, downtowns were the hearts of communities. But then, through changes in market forces and land use, particularly during the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, a lot of that activity moved to other parts of communities like malls and shopping centers,” Snyder said. “It’s been a pretty common occurrence, not just in Indio, but across the Coachella Valley, California and the nation. In a lot of communities, there’s been a strong desire to bring downtown back to a place of prominence, where the community can engage with each other to shop, dine, recreate and come together in kind of an historic part of the community. This current Indio Downtown Specific Plan is really an attempt to take the focus to a different level on the key attributes that our city has: It’s walkable, and it’s a grid system.

“Most of the communities in the Coachella Valley have downtowns that are not grid systems, but because we are one of the oldest communities (in the valley), we have the opportunity to develop that grid system for our downtown. The plan envisions multiple activity areas where you can go and listen to music, or watch movies on an inflatable screen, or go grab a bite to eat, or shop in a small boutique retail outlet. There’s interest in having people live downtown. We have some interesting opportunities to look at multi-family apartments, perhaps in a mixed-use orientation where you have retail space on the ground floor with living (space) above. Because we are the eastern capital of Riverside County, we have county personnel here; we have the city work force; and we have the Indio branch of the College of the Desert—so we have roughly 6,000 employees in that immediate downtown area. We’ve talked to developers who do multi-family development. They’ve done some preliminary looks at market-rate rental numbers, and they think (the opportunity) is viable, that they could charge rents here and make money.”

Will downtown redevelopment include low-income housing units—which are sorely needed in the eastern end of the valley? Snyder’s answer was not exactly encouraging.

“In recent conversations with our City Council and the Planning Commission, that same question came up. Our interest right now is in getting market-rate rental units,” Snyder said. “We believe that’s going to be the first push into this marketplace. Now that doesn’t mean that potentially there couldn’t be affordable housing in the downtown area, but right now, we really want to focus on creating that market-rate opportunity so that the private sector sees value in investment. The first people who invest in revitalizing downtown areas are often pioneers who, by having made that investment and taken that risk, show others that it’s worth it, and that they can make money. I worked in a community where we had one party come in and build a 124-unit market-rate apartment complex, and five years later, there was over $100 million in investment money coming into that community.

“When we talked to the council and the commission, we said that these could be four- or five-story buildings, and they were comfortable with that. When you’re dealing with downtown areas, you’re dealing with different footprints. You can’t spread out like you can in other parts of the community. You have to build up.”

How long does Synder think it will take for this new Indio downtown to come to fruition?

“If I knew that, then I’d be playing the lottery all the time,” Snyder said with a laugh. “But I have said publicly that I think we’re probably looking at five to seven years. If you come back to downtown Indio then, I think it’s going to have a different vibe, a different feeling, a different physical presence. Right now, many communities have a goal of making an 18-hour downtown, where, from the morning until 9 or 10 at night, you get an opportunity to have multiple things going on.

“Indio is the place I want to be. I think it’s a great place, and it has lots of great opportunities to envision a different future—and I get the benefit of working with a great team.”

The 2019 Palm Springs City Council election slate is not even set yet—that won’t happen until the candidate-nomination period closes Aug. 9—but one candidate, Alan “Alfie” Pettit, got an early start on his advertising by promoting his campaign via the cover story of the June 27-July 3 edition of the Coachella Valley Weekly.

The cover art showed Pettit—well-known locally as his drag alter ego, Arial Trampway—standing on top of his campaign vehicle. The cover featured a “Drag Out the Vote!” headline, a direct appeal for readers to “Elect Alan ‘Alfie’ Pettit” (via the text on the side of the vehicle) and his website address. The accompanying piece was an exceedingly flattering quasi-news story/endorsement of his candidacy.

The story was formatted and presented just like the other stories within the issue. What did not appear anywhere in print was a disclaimer saying that the content in question was paid for by the candidate’s campaign—nor was there any language at all disclosing that the story was actually a paid advertisement.

Therein lies the problem.

According to the California Fair Political Practices Commission (CFPPC): “Under California’s Political Reform Act … committees must include ‘Paid for by’ disclaimers on campaign advertising. A candidate’s campaign committee, a political action committee, a ballot measure committee, a political party committee, a major donor, and a person or entity making independent expenditures on candidates or ballot measures in California are all types of committees that are subject to disclaimer rules.”

Also, according to the California Election Code: “Any paid political advertisement that refers to an election or to any candidate for state or local elective office and that is contained in or distributed with a newspaper, shall bear on each surface of page thereof … the words ‘Paid Political Advertisement.’”

When I called Pettit, who is running for the Palm Springs City Council seat in the newly created District 3, he referred me to his campaign manager, Randy Economy, of Rancho Mirage.

Ecomomy said that the campaign was approached by Coachella Valley Weekly regarding the cover story.

CV Weekly is a publication that people have the opportunity to buy advertorials (in), and as far as I’m concerned, we’ve done everything correct on our end,” he said. “To me, (the CV Weekly) is not an editorial publication. To me, it’s more of an advertising publication. And I’m a campaign consultant who’s just trying to get my guy elected to office. Having the opportunity to be on the cover of CV Weekly, and I was approached by them to be able to do it … absolutely, I’m going to jump on that.”

Why didn’t the layout contain the CFPPC’s mandated disclaimer?

“If the CV Weekly chooses to run their publication that way, that’s their prerogative,” Economy said. “We (the Pettit campaign) didn’t do anything against CFPPC rules as far as disclosure is concerned. It will all be included in our campaign (financial reporting) statements.”

According to CFPPC guidelines, Economy’s analysis is not accurate.

When contacted via phone, CFPPC Communications Director Jay Wierenga—while declining to comment specifically on the matter involving Pettit and CV Weekly—said that when purchasing a newspaper ad, it is the candidate or his committee’s ultimate responsibility to make sure the disclaimer accompanies the advertorial placement.

The article, as it was originally posted on the Coachella Valley Weekly website on June 26, also appears to violate Federal Trade Commission standards for online advertising. The FTC’s guide regarding native advertising (which includes advertorial-style stories) states: “A basic truth-in-advertising principle is that it’s deceptive to mislead consumers about the commercial nature of content. Advertisements or promotional messages are deceptive if they convey to consumers expressly or by implication that they’re independent, impartial, or from a source other than the sponsoring advertiser—in other words, that they’re something other than ads. Why would it be material to consumers to know the source of the information? Because knowing that something is an ad likely will affect whether consumers choose to interact with it and the weight or credibility consumers give the information it conveys.”

The online version of the Alfie Pettit piece originally displayed no disclaimer or notice that the piece was actually a paid advertisement, and still did not more than a week after it was published. However, after the Independent started making inquiries regarding this story, a graphic was added to the very bottom of the piece, stating: “This article was paid for and approved by Alfie Pettit.”

CV Weekly publisher and editor Tracy Dietlin had not responded to several phone calls as of our press deadline.

Combating a lack of awareness of the legal requirements governing paid political messaging is one of the objectives pursued by Wierenga. In our conversation, he mentioned his hope that news coverage of potential violations of California’s campaign-advertising laws may spur a citizen to file a complaint, which would be investigated by the CFPPC enforcement arm.

Any California voter may file a complaint with the CFPPC if they discover what appears to be deceptive political advertising at www.fppc.ca.gov/enforcement/file-a-complaint.html.

Below: A screenshot of Alfie Pettit's website.

In late March, a press release landed in inboxes announcing the launch of the Coachella Valley Waterkeeper organization.

The release included some fairly inflammatory language about what the CVWK claimed were serious and ongoing aquifer-overdraft issues—and the failure to address Salton Sea degradation challenges. The CVWK, it seemed, was sailing into the Coachella Valley on a white warship to protect the environment and conserve water—two things, the release implied, had been dangerously mishandled by local and state stakeholders over the past decade or more.

The CVWK, as a program being launched and supervised under the auspices of the Orange County Coastkeeper (OCCK) organization in Costa Mesa, is a member of the national Waterkeeper Alliance, based in New York and headed up by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. On the Waterkeeper Alliance website, you can find this description of the CVWK and the valley: “The rich history of Coachella Valley in the desert region of Riverside County, California, is embedded within the Whitewater River watershed and the Coachella Valley aquifer … Today, the Whitewater River continues to serve as a critical water resource that replenishes the Coachella Valley aquifer—a drinking source for 400,000 people, including the reservation for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla people, and 66,000 acres of farmland. Coachella Valley is also home to a diverse array of animals and plant species that are now threatened by degradation of water quality caused by urban and agricultural development. The river, aquifer and Salton Sea, to which it drains, suffer from a legacy of poor development practices, antiquated infrastructure insufficient for the area’s current and future growth, pollution from agricultural return flow and unpermitted concentrated animal feeding operations, industrial runoff, and aquifer overdrafting.”

We wondered: Who were these people from Orange County who were convinced they could drop into the midst of our dusty valley and solve all of our water-related problems? For answers, we reached out to Garry Brown, the founder and president of the Orange County Coastkeeper, the parent entity of the new CVWK.

“OCCK is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and what we wanted to do is try to help out in the Coachella Valley, because I’ve always had a soft place in my heart for it,” he said. “I love the area. But all areas have water problems and issues. … While I can’t sit here and tell you that we have a defined body of work that we want to do, we’re out there now talking to a lot of people and listening.

“Obviously, there’s the Whitewater River and everything that pertains to it and the wash, and the value (those resources) bring. It’s a source for the aquifer which is incredibly essential to the Coachella Valley. And there’s the Salton Sea, which is somewhere between an asset and a big liability. A lot must be done there, or it’s going to be catastrophic, not only for the habitats there, but for the people, too.”

With so many local stakeholders working full-time already on these critical issues (albeit with less-than-completely successful results), what can the CVWK offer that will prove to be the game-changer?

“It wouldn’t be responsible of me to go out to the Coachella Valley and disrespect people who have been working on these issues for a long time, and start saying, ‘We know what all the issues are, and we know all the solutions,’” Brown said. “So we’ve been talking to a lot of people out there. We are trying to learn. We are trying to be respectful of other organizations that have been doing work for a long time, particularly on the Salton Sea. We absolutely feel that we can be an added voice. If it takes pressure in Sacramento or in Washington, D.C., we can help out with that. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of the proposals and ideas on how to fix (the Salton Sea). I’ve watched many millions of dollars being spent without anyone turning a shovel of dirt or anything. There seem to be concrete plans, but if they don’t get moving, and they don’t get funded, we’re running out of time before it becomes a health issue for the people there and all the way down the Interstate 10 corridor.”

As a first step toward proving its commitment to the Coachella Valley, at the start of June, Brown and the OCCK hired recent Peace Corps veteran Nina Waszak as the associate director and on-the-ground program leader. During a recent phone interview, Waszak discussed her plan of action.

“My No. 1 priority right now is gaining visibility within the communities of the Coachella Valley,” Waszak said. “I’ve been working on putting together a list of other nonprofits or organizations who are not just working with water issues, but are working similarly along the lines as we are. These are people I can collaborate with, because there are a lot of great organizations doing a lot of work focused on water, especially the Salton Sea. I’ve talked with the National Parks Conservation Association, and they gave me some good tips about what’s going on here. Also, a lot of my job right now is learning about the local issues. As far as the Indian tribes, we would love to collaborate with the Agua Caliente (Band of Cahuilla Indians), but I’m still working on getting in contact with them. I do have some contacts with the Torres Martinez reservation in Thermal, which is working on a wetlands-restoration project at the Salton Sea.”

While in the Peace Corps, Waszak served in a remote indigenous community in Panama where they had their own language, culture and form of dress.

“I lived with them and learned their language,” Waszak said. “Also, because of the nature of where I lived, there wasn’t any potable water year-round, so everything I did was in the river. I bathed there, washed my clothes, washed my dishes there. … So I really learned to have an appreciation for water and what we have here in the States. That (experience) plays an interesting role in this position I have now, because I can see the importance of water and the fact that here in the Coachella Valley, there are still water issues, particularly in the eastern valley with potable-water sources.

“As a Peace Corps volunteer, my job was to hear what the community needed and then use my resources and my knowledge to bridge that gap and help them get what they needed. I’m definitely using that idea in this job.”

For his part, Brown appreciates the lonely role Waszak will be playing for a while.

“She’s going to be alone out there for the next few months, and yet she has a whole backup (team) here at the OCCK,” he said. “We have professional educators, attorneys, accounting people and media-publicity people she can rely on to help build her program. On another front, at over 40 high schools in the Costa Mesa region, we show kids where water comes from, besides the faucet, and where it goes, besides the drain. We pay for buses and take them on field trips to show them facilities that are dealing with water. These are all activities that we’ll soon be looking to incorporate in our program out there.”

Brown asked that those of us in the Coachella Valley give him, Waszak and their team a chance.

“When I started (the OCCK) 20 years ago, I didn’t know where it was going to wind up,” he said. “But we’ve been able to compile a long list of achievements and wins. I just want to extend that out to the Coachella Valley and help by being part of the team that makes things better out there.”

Local news reports as of late have included alarming updates on a spate of disputes that have cropped up involving local water agencies.

For example, there’s the outrage expressed by the Desert Hot Springs-area’s Mission Springs Water District over what it refers to as the west valley-area Desert Water Agency’s “seizure” of groundwater management.

Or perhaps you saw a headline regarding the Imperial Irrigation District’s concern over the recent legislative action taken by local Assemblymember Chad Mayes (right). His Assembly Bill 854 proposed forcing the IID to expand its board of directors from five to 11 members, with the six new members all coming from Riverside County, whose IID electricity customers pay 60 percent of IID’s power-related revenues. Currently, only Imperial County constituents elect the IID board members, which leaves Riverside County customers with no voice in their power company’s operations.

Then there’s the biggest local water dispute—which began in 2013 with the filing of a lawsuit against the east valley’s Coachella Valley Water District and the Desert Water Agency by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. The suit claims the tribe possesses “senior water rights” to all the groundwater in the aquifer under the entire Coachella Valley. The tribe has been seeking control over all decisions, policies and groundwater-management strategies that either agency might implement.

Why is this all happening, and why is it happening now? What is causing this hyper-sensitivity among water stakeholders? What does it all mean for residents?


John Soulliere is the Mission Springs Water District’s conservation and public-affairs officer. During a recent phone interview, I asked what led to the recent lawsuit and public attacks against the Desert Water Agency.

“What we’re talking about here is removing the ability from the five elected board members of the Mission Springs Water District to determine how we will develop our local water supply to meet demand and meet (the requirements) of economic development and growth,” he said. “That right was taken away through a unilateral action of the DWA board, and through a somewhat stealth action by the state, to include (the DWA) in a new state law as an exclusive Groundwater Sustainability Agency without notification to the city of Desert Hot Springs or our water agency.”

The “stealth action” Soulliere refers to was taken by the DWA board back in 2015. So why the aggressive posture now—four years after the fact?

“Prior to taking the action they did in 2015, we had a court settlement with DWA and CVWD, who does pump and serve up in our area (as well). That court settlement put the three of us at the table to jointly manage. We spent $1.3 million developing a management plan. Within that plan, MSWD retained its rights to manage its local water supply and to develop the water as it saw fit—within state law, of course. DWA was, and continues to be, the state water contractor. They are here for the purpose of replenishment. We were functioning under that agreement just fine, (but the DWA’s) 2015 action basically threw that settlement off to the side. The management plan that came out of that settlement may still be in play, but the difference now is that we (MSWD) are removed from the governance and the authority. So it was a very divisive and hostile act that they’ve taken to move us out of the equation so that they can make autonomous decisions related to water in our basin.”

Kephyan Sheppard is the pastor at the Word of Life Fellowship Center in Desert Hot Springs, and the chair of the Mission Springs Water District’s Water Rights Study Group, which just issued its final report. I asked him why this issue had taken on such a sense of urgency now, when the action in question took place in 2015.

“Being a pastor in this community, I’ve been hands-on with the residents for seven years, and for the most part, it appeared that many didn’t even know that there was a dispute going on,” Sheppard said. “Recently, in like the last year and a half, people are starting to find out, and there’s a sense of pride and entitlement saying, ‘Keep your hands off our water.’ There’s a growing understanding of what’s at stake.”

I asked him if he could point to any examples of the DWA not fulfilling its responsibilities, or the DWA doing anything harmful to the interests of DHS residents.

“No, not necessarily,” Sheppard said. “The study group was formed because of the unprecedented action taken (by the DWA) without discussion with MSWD, and so for (DHS residents), that was the main thing. I know (Desert Hot Springs) is projected to have an economic and growth boom over the next decade, and I know that water is integral to everything that’s getting ready to take place. So, we need to make sure that we control our water.”

“Our” water? Doesn’t the water the DWA is managing as a Groundwater Sustainability Agency belong to all Coachella Valley residents?

Obviously, the Desert Water Agency views the dispute differently. Ashley Metzger is the outreach and conservation manager of the DWA.

“The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act is a law passed (by the California State Legislature) in 2015,” Metzger said. “We are one of approximately 20 or so agencies statewide that are actually designated by law as exclusive groundwater-management agencies. If you look at the language when we were established in 1961, it was for the purpose of (providing) groundwater replenishment and management. That is part of the reason why we have this exclusive designation. We have the unique ability within our boundaries to provide for both supply and demand management. The MSWD is missing a key part of the equation (replenishment capabilities) if we are not involved. If we are involved, as we have been for decades, then you have both sides of the equation.”

I asked Metzger about Mission Springs’ claim that the Desert Hot Springs agency has been effectively removed from any role in planning for future water-development needs.

“We are and have been a part of the Desert Hot Springs community,” Metzger said. “We have facilities there, and we have the authority to manage the groundwater there by statute. There’s a water-management agreement that’s been in place since 2004. As part of (the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act), you have to submit a plan to the state, and the foundation for that plan was the agreement that MSWD, CVWD and DWA had all signed onto.

“We’re not proposing anything radical. We’re not trying to take any water away. Groups come to our board meetings saying things like, ‘You’re trying to take our hot springs water and provide it in Palm Springs,’ and that’s certainly not true. We’ve been fighting a bit of confusion and misinformation, which has been a challenge. I think our biggest message to people is that we’re planning for the future. That’s a key part of our organizational role. … You know that Palm Springs and Cathedral City are largely built out. So when we talk about planning for growth, we’re thinking about the northern area of our boundary, where there is the most room for growth, which is the DHS area. We’re putting dollars out and committing to spending more money in the future to make all that possible.

“We’ve been communicating with stakeholders in the community and letting them know. I think we may have done ourselves a little bit of a disservice in the past by letting MSWD take the lead on being the face of water in the community out there. So we’re changing our approach, and we’re more active and engaged in the community.”


“Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting over.” This quote—attributed to Mark Twain, although there’s no evidence he actually said it—seems to apply to the Coachella Valley of today. How else might one explain the recent controversy over District 42 Assemblymember Chad Mayes and his AB 854?

Neighboring District 56 Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (right) recently stepped into the fray, tabling the bill in the Assembly Appropriations Committee (on which he sits), in a successful effort to get the Imperial Irrigation District and the east valley’s Coachella Valley Water District into discussions about “extending the (1934) electricity-service agreement in the Coachella Valley service area.”

The controversial bill was sponsored by Mayes, a Republican, to rectify what some perceive to be an injustice: Some Coachella Valley residents receive their electricity service through the IID, but they are not allowed to vote for any IID board members.

The IID provides no water to Coachella Valley residents, just electricity. This is one reason why Mayes’ call to increase the IID board size from five members to eleven, with the six new members all being from Riverside County (in other words, the Coachella Valley), drew public cries of outrage from multiple directions—including threats that the IID could pull out of the Coachella Valley.

Emmanuel Martinez is the IID’s government affairs specialist.

“The position of the Imperial Irrigation District is that this legislation completely ignores a longstanding relationship and agreement between the CVWD and the IID,” Martinez said during a recent phone interview. “The long and the short of it is that through this contractual relationship, which is the 1934 compromise agreement expiring in 2033, the Coachella Valley was allowed to get water via the IID, and in return, the CVWD leased their power rights to the IID. So, this new legislation proposes to add six new directors to the IID board and is a complete takeover, in our opinion.”

I asked Martinez if it was unfair that Coachella Valley residents had no right to vote on the makeup of the board of the IID, to which they pay their electric bills.

“IID and CVWD are similar agencies in that they are both water districts with competing interests for the same source of water, which is the Colorado River water,” Martinez said. “By virtue of that, this legislation would give double representation to the people of the CVWD, who would vote for CVWD board members and have control of that board, and also vote for IID board members.”

The Independent asked Mayes what prompted him to sponsor AB 854; he responded via email.

“IID has the ability to change utility rates, determine investment in communities, or cut service altogether,” Mayes wrote. “This power over 92,000 disenfranchised voters must be balanced with representation. An individual’s right to a voice in any government exerting powers over them is one of the founding principles of this nation. AB 854 was introduced to honor this fundamental right and extends it to all IID ratepayers.”

We asked Mayes what his next steps would be, now that the bill has been tabled, at least temporarily.

“In order for this bill to pass the Legislature, we must ensure water rights are protected; representation is extended to those currently disenfranchised within IID’s service territory; and there is a strong and dependable public electrical utility in perpetuity in the IID service area,” Mayes wrote. “I’m committed to finding a common ground that both sides can agree on and amending this legislation to reflect that. From day one, I’ve said that IID’s water rights are sacrosanct. I did so publicly, and I did directly to IID. The final version of this bill will not infringe on those rights.”

Assemblymember Garcia, a Democrat, took credit for quelling the tensions raised by AB 854. “Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia Engages to Bring Parties Together for Talks on Future of IID’s Electricity Service in Coachella Valley” was the headline on the press release issued by his office on May 16.

It went on to say: “After speaking with both Imperial Irrigation District and the Coachella Valley Water District, they have both agreed to begin meetings to examine the 1934 agreement and the possibility of extending the electricity service agreement in the Coachella Valley service area. The willingness of parties to come to the table demonstrates good faith efforts on all sides to resolve this matter locally without the need for legislation.”


Last, but certainly not least, is the recent development in the battle between the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and the valley’s water agencies.

The tribe’s suit, seeking power over the groundwater underneath the valley, hit a significant wall in April, when U.S. District Court Judge Jesus Bernal dismissed portions of it because the tribe could not prove it had been significantly harmed.

The Coachella Valley Water District and Desert Water Agency claimed victory in an April 22 statement.

“The Agua Caliente Tribe was not harmed, because it has always had access to as much high-quality water as it needs,” the statement said. “The judge ruled that the tribe does not have standing, the right to pursue a lawsuit against the local public water agencies, Coachella Valley Water District and Desert Water Agency. The only claim remaining in the tribe’s lawsuit is the “narrow issue” of whether the tribe has an ownership interest in storage space for groundwater under its reservation, the court wrote.”

This ruling is as close to a total victory as the water agencies could have hoped to achieve.

“Our top priority is and always has been to protect our groundwater supplies to ensure a sustainable, reliable water future for everyone in the Coachella Valley,” said John Powell Jr., the Coachella Valley Water District’s board president. “We are part of this community, and we are committed to its environmental and economic success.

The statement went on to read: “The water agencies have spent decades ensuring a safe, reliable water supply to all users in the Coachella Valley, including the five tribes in the basin. Both agencies remain committed to long-term water sustainability.”

The Agua Caliente tribe has not said what its next steps will be.

Several days later, the Coachella Valley Water District boasted in an April 30 statement: “An annual analysis of groundwater levels shows significant increases over the past 10 years throughout most of the Coachella Valley.”

The statement discussed studies done on both the Indio and Mission Creek sub-basins, which account for much of the valley’s aquifer. The Indio Sub-basin is located under the vast majority of the Coachella Valley; over the past 10 years, there were increases in groundwater levels between two and 50 feet. There were localized portions of decreased water levels in the range of two to eight feet in the mid-valley area, which will soon benefit from the CVWD’s Palm Desert Replenishment Facility.

Meanwhile, the Mission Creek sub-basin, located under Desert Hot Springs and the unincorporated area of Indio Hills, showed increases in groundwater levels of up to 28.5 feet in most of the area.

So, there you have it: The Coachella Valley’s water supply is in good shape. But don’t expect fights and power struggles over it to end anytime soon.


Coachella Valley Water History Timeline

1918

Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) is created.

Feb. 14, 1934

Signing of the Agreement of Compromise between the Imperial Irrigation District (IID), the Coachella Valley Water District and the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) governing access to Colorado River water.

1953

Mission Springs Water District (MSWD) is created.

1961

Desert Water Agency (DWA) is created.

2004

An initial MSWD lawsuit against DWA and CVWD is settled requiring the Mission Springs Sub-basin to receive supplemental water from the other two agencies.

May 14, 2013

Lawsuit filed by Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians against CVWD and DWA seeking groundwater rights, superseding all other water users in the region.

2013

The Mission Creek/Garnet Hill Water Management Plan is adopted by the boards of CVWD, DWA and MSWD.

2014-2015

California State Legislature passes the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2015; it is amended in 2015.

Nov. 13, 2015

DWA holds board meeting and votes itself to be the groundwater management agency supervising MSWD.

2016

MSWD files suit against DWA opposing designation of DWA as the Groundwater Sustainability Agency over DWA and MSWD boundary areas.

Nov. 27, 2017

The U.S. Supreme Court decides not to review the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision granting superior rights to groundwater to the Agua Caliente tribe.

Feb. 20, 2019

AB 854 introduced by Assemblymember Chad Mayes.

April 19, 2019

U.S. District Court Judge Jesus Bernal dismisses a significant portion of the Agua Caliente’s suit against DWA and CVWD, saying the tribe has not been substantially harmed by the agencies’ actions.

May 16, 2019

Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia issues statement as a member of the Assembly Appropriations Committee placing a hold on AB 854 with the intention of holding negotiations between IID and CVWD.

On March 29, Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia set out to tour multiple mobile home parks and schools in the eastern Coachella Valley—places where there is no reliable access to clean drinking water.

Garcia—the current chair of the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife—was not alone: He was joined by 57 others, including fellow members of the state Legislature; an eight-member complement from the State Water Resources Control Board, led by Chairman E. Joaquin Esquivel; and representatives of the Coachella Valley Water District, including board Vice President Cástulo Estrada, who helped arrange the tour.

“There’s this perception that the issue of accessibility to clean water is only a problem in rural parts of California,” Garcia said later, during a phone interview. “There are clean-drinking-water issues up and down the state, whether you’re in a small or big town, a larger urban city, a rural community or an Indian reservation.

“We were able to demonstrate to members of the Legislature, as well as other stakeholders from the Sacramento area, just how important fixing this statewide issue is, and how it ties in to the water-quality problems we have here in our own backyard in the Coachella Valley.”

Estrada later said the tour was instrumental in showing that a number of Coachella Valley residents still don’t have access to safe drinking water.

“The purpose of the event was not just to highlight the lack of access to safe drinking water across the state, but primarily to highlight the particular needs here in the eastern Coachella Valley,” Estrada said. “I think that was the purpose—and that’s what we did.”

Estrada said it’s important for the Coachella Valley to get state help.

“Two years ago, the conversation started, and it got really heavy, and folks were trying to create a bill to address this issue,” Estrada said. “My concern at that time was that (the legislative effort) was too heavy in trying to address the needs in the San Joaquin Valley. Although they were trying to create a statewide solution and extract revenues from all of California, the highlighted problem was in the Central Valley as it relates to the agricultural contamination of groundwater and the (resulting) high level of nitrates in the water in those areas. So at that time, I started to get more involved with Assemblyman Garcia to make sure that, as this conversation continued in Sacramento, we had a seat at the table, and that folks understood our particular situation here in the eastern Coachella Valley.

Local needs—and solutions—have been summarized and organized in a master plan drawn up by the Disadvantaged Communities Infrastructure Task Force of the Coachella Valley Water District.

“Through the (task force), we’ve been able to work with county departments, local nonprofits, concerned community members, the assemblymember’s office, the congressman’s office and the supervisor’s office,” Estrada said. “Now, this is the story that we tell folks: (Residents of the eastern Coachella Valley) have more than 100 small water systems that are scattered across thousands of acres of mostly agricultural lands. These communities didn’t just pop up yesterday; they’ve been here for decades. They are in rural areas, and they’ve been left to their own devices to understand water, and water quality, and dig their own wells and take ownership of them. But it’s come to a point where these wells are not sustainable, and as a result, there are folks drinking unclean and unsafe water.

“So we created this master plan where we took these 100-plus small water systems scattered across the eastern Coachella Valley and created about 42 projects out of them. … These 42 projects will consolidate all of these mobile home parks and other small water systems that we have identified and make them part of the CVWD infrastructure. We put a rough (cost estimate) on the master plan of about $75 million. So the story we are telling in Sacramento is, ‘Look, we have a master plan. We’ve done the needs assessment, and we need funding in order to execute on these projects.’”

To this end—and to create a fund to help secure safe drinking water statewide—Garcia is sponsoring Assembly Bill 217, the Safe Drinking Water for All Act.

“AB 217 establishes a funding mechanism,” Garcia said. “It’s a combined effort of general-fund money and fees on (the agricultural industry), pesticides (producers and users) and the dairy industry. There will be a public benefit fee for clean water that is paid through the water agencies. As you can imagine, this is a very difficult conversation for folks to have: People will say, ‘I have clean drinking water, so why should I have to help provide clean drinking water for the people who live in Thermal or Mecca? We’ve heard that said time and time again.

“California boasts the fifth-largest economy in the world,” Garcia said. “But in spite of the amount of wealth that exists in the state, there’s still a significant amount of people living under the poverty line. We believe that (on behalf of) those folks, the state needs to address these issues. No one in California should have to go without safe clean drinking water, whether it be at their school or at their home.”

The bill is currently making its way through the Legislature.

“The bill got out of its first committee several weeks ago, and I believe there’s more work that needs to be done on the legislation,” Garcia said. “Specifically, there are the questions of oversight and accountability of funds—where they go, and how they get used. If I’m going to spend money to improve the water quality for over 1 million people by connecting them to clean drinking water, how and when would we know that we are hitting our benchmarks? We are working with a wide array of stakeholders on language that will do that.”

Meanwhile, Estrada wants start working on those aforementioned 42 projects as soon as possible.

“For years, (the CVWD has) been applying for grants. … We’ve gone after (U.S. Department of Agriculture) money. We’ve been pretty aggressive as an agency to seek grant funding, and we have been successful—yet we’ve been moving very slowly.”

Estrada said the water district is ready to begin work on two projects.

“For these top two projects, we are going to use the funding we currently have to get them through preliminary engineering, the environmental documentation and the application process to apply for construction funding,” Estrada said. “In the case of the Valley View Project, which was one of the stops on the March tour, we’ll be consolidating nine small water systems in mobile home parks. It covers a huge area, and we’re connecting about 136 families.

“The other one is St. Anthony’s, where we’re consolidating around the same number of families by hooking up just three small mobile home park water systems. So we have a road map now, and that’s our master plan. When funding becomes available, we’ll just continue to the next (project) and the next one and the next one.”

Last year’s ANA Inspiration featured a playoff that forced eventual winner Pernilla Lindberg and Inbee Park to play into Monday.

This year’s edition featured no such edge-of-your-seat drama—but it did feature another surprising winner.

The LPGA’s top players battled brief displays of Coachella Valley winds and heat, along with their own inner demons, before 23-year-old South Korean Jin Young Ko took the victorious jump into Poppy’s Pond after rolling in a birdie putt on the 18th green to cap her 10-under-par score.

Asked what went through her mind as she addressed that putt on 18, Ko replied, “My grandfather. My grandfather died one year ago … I couldn't believe my grandfather (was) dead, so I miss him.”

Ko’s total bested fellow South Korean Mi Hyang Lee by three shots. Lee was the only player to nip at the winner’s heels during Sunday’s final round, pulling within one shot as late as the 15th hole. Ko responded immediately with a birdie on the 16.

When asked how she’s gotten such a fast start thus far in 2019—only her second season on the LPGA tour—and how she feels about playing in Coachella Valley, Ko told the media: “I tried (to be the) happiest golfer on the course, but if ball goes right or left, it doesn't make me happy. But I'm still try(ing to be) happy. Also, I really try not to think about the future. … I practice in Palm Springs in January, so I know I like desert course, because all the time, the ball goes far.”

In the final round, fan favorite and 2014 champion Lexi Thompson stayed close enough to the leaders to have a chance if she could mount one of her familiar charges—and on the back nine, she started whittling into Ko’s lead. Thompson, playing a dozen groups ahead of Ko, stood on the par 5, 18th green with a long eagle putt to pull within a shot of the lead. However, Thompson’s eagle attempt came up well short—and then she missed the makeable birdie putt.

“I just got up to the putt and said, ‘You know, Ii it misses it misses, but just get up there,’” Thompson told the media after her round.

An interesting side note: As final-round play began on Sunday, four of the six lowest scores belonged to women from South Korea. This small nation is leading the way in LPGA play, and 2019 could be the year of South Korean women’s golfing domination.

Scroll down to see some photos from the ANA Inspiration tournament.

The LPGA tour’s annual arrival at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage means that spring, too, has arrived in the Coachella Valley.

The 2019 ANA Inspiration tournament—“Golf’s First Major,” as the program cover declares—begins in earnest on Thursday, April 4, and will wind up this Sunday, April 7. Will we see another edge-of-your-seat playoff finish this year? No one can say. But all of the world’s top women pro players are here, and they’re all teeing off for a shot at the title and the winner’s check of nearly $500,000.

As a result of the wet winter, the verdant rolling hills of the championship layout are lush and thick. Traditionally, courses hosting major tournaments are prepared to be at their most challenging. In particular, the length of the rough is always a major discussion point.

“It’s tall (at) a few holes, but just the thickness of it definitely slows the club down going through it. It’s how the rough usually is at majors, so it’s definitely setting up as it should,” said 2014 winner and perennial crowd favorite Lexi Thompson.

Said two-time winner Brittany Lincicome: “It’s fantastic. They’ve lengthened three holes, and I’m hoping they play it back as far as possible. The rough is thick. I’m playing the yellow ball probably again this week so (it) may be easier to find in the rough.”

Last year’s winner, Pernilla Lindberg, added: “The rough is juicy. I know it’s been a wet winter out here. … If they just leave it the way it is at the moment, it’s going to be a good test, a good challenge.”

The magic of the legendary Dinah Shore tournament on this famous golfing track was best summed up by 2011 winner Stacy Lewis: “I love this golf course. It was the first time I played as an amateur. Obviously, I had a really good result. I love playing in the desert and just the history of this tournament. Just coming in with good vibes, seeing all the girls jump in the pond—it’s my favorite tradition we have. I’d love to be able to do it again.”

Rest assured: Some victorious and thrilled woman will take the jump on Sunday. Scroll down for a handful of photos from the day before the start of this year’s tournament.

The flood the Coachella Valley experienced on Valentine’s Day will not soon be forgotten—and the scars it left will be visible for a long time.

The severity of the event was framed for us by the facts presented by Marcus Fuller, the assistant city manager and city engineer for Palm Springs, in an email sent after we requested an interview. On that day:

• The Palm Springs Airport received 3.69 inches of rain—“almost all the rainfall we receive normally in an entire year, (which) was reported as the third-highest volume of single-day rainfall in our (recorded) history.”

• “Riverside County Flood Control reports that rainfall totals in the Mount San Jacinto area (Idyllwild) reached over 9 inches, and (it) was considered a ‘100-year event.’”

• “The storm was also warm, and there was no snowfall on Mount San Jacinto. The rainfall melted the prior snow accumulations, generating more runoff into the rivers and the desert floor.”

The result was traffic mayhem. For about 24 hours, the only way to get between Palm Springs and the freeway was via Ramon Road, which led to massive traffic jams and delays.

As the waters cascaded in an easterly direction, Cathedral City was next to sustain infrastructure damage. Cathedral Canyon Drive was closed for more than a month—although things could have been much worse.

“As a point of fact, we actually did pretty well during the storm overall,” said John Corella, Cathedral City’s director of engineering/public works. “When the storm happened, our engineers went out and identified four or five locations where we were having significant stormwater challenges.”

Further east in Palm Desert, Cook Street was closed for a couple of days at the wash. The city of Indian Wells had to shut down a stretch of Fred Waring Drive, and in Indio, Avenue 44 remained closed at the wash as of this writing.

Despite the grumblings by residents and tourists alike about impassable roads and lengthy traffic disruptions, Katie Evans, the director of communications and conservation for the Coachella Valley Water District, said things went … great?

“I would point out that, from the CVWD perspective, the rain event on Feb. 14 provided a great example of our system working exactly as we want it to,” she proclaimed.

I asked her to elaborate.

“That storm was a pretty significant weather event,” Evans said, “and the truth is that our system is designed to funnel all the water falling or running off the surrounding mountains into our Whitewater Wash storm channel, and then convey it down to the Salton Sea, and that is exactly what happened.

“Because we live in this area that has very steep mountains all around us, flash flooding is a major concern. The Whitewater Wash storm channel is the safest place for the water to be for the protection of all our valley residents—because, when it’s in that channel, it’s not flooding homes and businesses.

“CVWD is the regional stormwater provider. The cities are the local municipal stormwater providers, and they have to build their own systems that feed into the channel, so there’s a need for cooperation here. The cities build their own retention basins and smaller channels all that send their water into the Whitewater regional channel system, which CVWD maintains. The wash was a naturally occurring route (for stormwater) that the CVWD improved and built upon in the 1970s, but the fact is that we do have some trouble caused by (projects) that were built in the channel territory, such as golf courses and roads. There are agreements that allow one to do that—to build a road in the channel if you want to—but it’s a channel, and its primary purpose is to convey storm water.”

And therein lies the problem: Many of the important roadways in the valley, by necessity, cross the wash. So what can be done to mitigate the road closures and damage that take place when these types of floods occur—and where will the money come from to fund any such projects?

According to local government officials, some projects are already in the pipeline.

“We’ve sent four locations in to Caltrans in our request for emergency relief funds,” said Corella, from Cathedral City. “One is the Cathedral Canyon low-water crossing. We lost our two northbound lanes to the flood flow that came through the wash channel. We are currently restoring that to two lanes (one northbound, one southbound), and we are petitioning the state for funds to restore it to four lanes again, which would cost about $1.2 million—but we’re trying to work with them to explain that we already have a bridge project that’s been designed. All the required property has been acquired. … We have a shovel-ready project that will cost $20 million, and we’re on the Caltrans potential-projects-to-fund list in their next funding cycle. So we’ve explained that we’d rather not restore the four lanes in the low-water crossing. … We’d like them to please fund the bridge project.”

In Palm Springs, Fuller wrote that the city has been getting federal help for infrastructure improvements.

“The city has aggressively pursued federal funding through what was formerly called the Highway Bridge Program to replace, widen (and) retrofit/rehabilitate its existing bridges, and we currently have six different federally funded bridge projects underway,” he said.

Some $150 million in federal funding is committed to six projects, which include replacing the two-lane bridge over the railroad tracks on Indian Canyon Drive with a new six-lane bridge; a new raised roadway and bridge/culvert across South Palm Canyon Drive at Bogert Trail; widening the Ramon Road bridge over the Whitewater Wash from four lanes to six; and a new half-mile, four-lane bridge on Vista Chino over the wash.

Unfortunately, not all needed projects have been approved. Fuller said that the state—using federal funds—did OK a 2015 request for a new, two-mile bridge on Indian Canyon Drive over the entire 100-year flood plain of the Whitewater Wash. But …

“The state accepted our application but did not approve programming any funding, as the total amount of the project nearly represents the total funding that the state receives from the federal government for the total (Highway Bridge Program) fund in any single year.

“Then, on Oct. 1, 2016, the state stopped accepting applications. … Thus we are prevented from submitting a request for funding a Gene Autry Trail bridge, which would also have an estimated cost of $250 million.”

What does that mean for these two vital arteries in and out of Palm Springs? “Given the costs of these two long bridges, we are unable to proceed unless we find alternative funding sources,” Fuller wrote.

However, there is some good news: The CVWD just announced it is receiving a $51 million loan from the Environmental Protection Agency to fund area improvements.

“The CVWD has a big, long-term capital-improvement plan for our regional stormwater system,” Evans said. “… System improvements are needed, for example, in north Indio, where there are areas that need flood protection and don’t have it now. Also, the Avenue 54 stormwater channel running to the Thermal Drop Structure has been identified to receive improvement funds.”

As the 2019 edition of the BNP Paribas Open shifted into high gear, the world’s best tennis players battled the weather, injuries, illness and each other for the trophies and the $1.3 million men’s and women’s singles championship checks that were handed out in Stadium 1 on St. Patrick’s Day.

The feel-good story of the tournament—and perhaps of the year in tennis—was Bianca Andreescu. The 18-year-old Canadian, a wild-card entrant into the BNP Paribas Open, defeated four opponents ranked in the Top 20 as she made her improbable march toward the championship, delivering a masterful show of grit and talent.

Andreescu was the talk of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden as she made her improbable run toward the title of the tennis world’s “fifth major.” Last year, Naomi Osaka flew under the radar to win her first big tournament, starting down a road that led to last year’s U.S. Open singles title win over Serena Williams; the Australian Open women’s title; and a return to the Coachella Valley as the No. 1 player in the world. (Osaka lost her bid to repeat as champ in the round of 16 to Belinda Bencic.) Only time will tell us if Andreescu can emulate such a meteoric climb, after winning the hearts of the 16,000-plus spectators as she struggled against the sudden return of warm weather and the (mostly) solid strokes of three-time Grand Slam winner and eighth-ranked Angelique Kerber, before winning in three sets.

On the men’s side, the ATP’s fourth-ranked player, perennial fan favorite Roger Federer, walked onto the Stadium 1 court late on Sunday afternoon as the odds-on favorite against seventh-seeded Dominic Thiem of Austria. Federer had not lost a set on his way to the final, and had just come off an unexpected day of rest when longtime nemesis/friend Rafael Nadal had to withdraw from their highly anticipated semifinal due to a recurring knee injury. (Thiem gained an extra day of rest earlier in the week as well, when the ever-entertaining French shot-making maestro Gael Monfils had to withdraw.) While Federer jumped out to an early lead and appeared to be back in control late in the third and final set, it was Thiem who rose to the occasion, taking the title 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.

One other highlight of came courtesy of tournament director and former ATP pro Tommy Haas, who skillfully filled the open spot in Saturday’s schedule (due to Nadal’s withdrawal) by luring No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic—who had been upset in the third round—and tennis legends Pete Sampras and John McEnroe onto the court for a lively and fun-filled one-set doubles exhibition that was refereed by comedian John Lovitz.

Scroll down to see photos from the final days of the BNP Paribas Open.

When entering the painstakingly manicured 121-acre grounds of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden for Day 1 of the 2019 BNP Paribas Open, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the beauty offered up by both the Coachella Valley itself and the iconic sporting event that makes its home here.

The BNP Paribas Open was voted the Tournament of the Year in 2018 by both ATP men and WTA women for the fifth consecutive year, and one is immediately enveloped by the gorgeous vistas and the excitement spurred when all the best tennis players in the world converge here—but beyond the beautiful surroundings, this event is also defined by the many residents of our valley who fill all types of roles crucial to the success of this two-week tennis bacchanal.

From ball persons to security personnel, to groundskeepers and ushers, you’ll find CV residents present to welcome throngs of fans—totaling more than 450,000 last year. (To see photos of just a few of our involved neighbors, scroll down below.)

The on-court competition ramps up gradually from Days 1 and 2, when the qualifying matches for the main draw play out across the 29 courts. For the first time this year, the night of Day 2 featured the Eisenhower Cup event, a curious hybrid exhibition/competition featuring eight of the world’s best-known ATP players engaged in a form of high-speed tennis known as Tie-Break-Ten. Hosted in its inaugural appearance by perennial fan favorite Rafael Nadal, the world’s No. 2-ranked player, the players face off in four quarterfinal matches, followed by two semi-finals and then the championship, which was won by Milos Raonic.

While the uncharacteristically cold and wet winter weather showed up again as play was about to begin, it could not dampen the fun or attraction of the risk-taking tennis that entertained the crowd late into the night. All proceeds from ticket sales are to be donated to local charities—making this kickoff event a true celebration of the best the world of sports can deliver.

See images from the opening days of the BNP Paribas Open below.

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