Surfing the lagoons in the Southern California desert

Hours off the California coast, surfers are hoping one of the next spots where they can catch a wave is in the desert.

At least four large surf lagoons are on offer for the area around Palm Springs, which is best known for its arts festivals, mountain hikes, and golf, and has no natural waves in sight.

But some environmentalists and residents say it’s unwise to build large resorts in one of California’s driest places during one of its driest periods in recent memory. They argue water from huge surf pools will quickly evaporate in the desert heat, wasting a precious resource, while proponents say waves will boost tourism, intensify recreation and use less water than land ever-popular golf courses.

“Is their best use of limited water resources in these times of climate-related drought golf courses and surf breaks?” said Conner Everts, executive director of the Southern California Watershed Alliance. “It’s like a fantasy. It’s like Dubai.

California is going through a relentless drought, made worse by climate change, and its nearly 40 million residents have faced repeated calls in recent years to conserve water. The greater Palm Springs area sits atop an underground aquifer but receives remarkably little rainfall and depends on water from the State Water Project, which is operating below capacity, and the Colorado River, a water supplier American critic who is overloaded.

Local water district officials say there is enough water in a 20-year plan to sustain new wave pools and resorts.

The popularity of surfing grows

The proposals, which range from luxury private communities to a public wave park, come as surfing gains popularity in the United States. It became an Olympic sport last year, and industry experts predict its continued growth as travel resumes after pandemic shutdowns and amid an increase in indoor surf parks, according to Global Industry Analysts Inc. , based in San Jose, Calif.

Cheyne Magnusson, a pro surfer revamping a Palm Springs water park and adding a wave pool, is counting on it. He said the area is ideal because many hardcore surfers live within driving distance and the waves can be unreliable at the beach. It’s also a popular vacation spot, he said, and beginners may want to try surfing in a safe environment.

“A lot of people have the day off today and they really want to go surfing. I can guarantee they’re going to get a good wave, and they’re going to get a lot of it,” said Magnusson, who helped develop a park. waves in the landlocked Waco, Texas.

Magnusson’s project is under construction and two more are approved. In nearby La Quinta, a 400-acre development around a half-mile-long wave pool is facing opposition from homeowners who have moved to the area in search of a quiet retirement community.

They say the proposed Coral Mountain development will attract loud surf festivals and ruin stargazing with its dazzling lights. And they fear that the pool’s planned annual use of 120 acre-feet of water – in addition to the water used in the development’s 600 homes, hotels and outlets – could deplete the water supply of the community.

‘Just mad’

In 2016, one acre-foot was enough for between three and four California households for a year, according to the nonprofit Water Education Foundation.

“With the evaporation and the wind and everything that’s going to happen…,” said Alena Callimanis, a member of the La Quinta Residents for Responsible Development group, “the optics of it all are just crazy.”

But John Gamlin, president of CM Wave Development, noted that the wave pool will use eight to 10 times less water than a golf course, and the golf course has already been approved for the site. He said many local residential pools use potable water, but the pool will use non-potable water treated at an on-site filtration plant.

“Ultimately, we are confident that the Coral Mountain project will be among the most responsible water users in the Valley,” Gamlin said in an email, adding that residential areas and open spaces, which represent most of the project’s external activities. water consumption, will also use non-potable water.

The Coachella Valley Water District, which serves much of the region, said building projects is up to local authorities, but the water is there. While groundwater basin storage hit a low in 2009, supplies have since improved thanks to replenishment and conservation efforts, said district spokeswoman Lorraine Garcia.

Critics note, however, that the district has replenished groundwater with imported water sources, and these are limited. State officials recently said water agencies will receive 5% of what they requested this year beyond what is needed for critical activities such as drinking and bathing in what has was the driest start to a Californian year in at least a century.

Tourism boom

The conditions come amid a tourism boom in greater Palm Springs, which became a travel destination more than a century ago when locals sought out the hot, dry climate, believing it was good for their health. Over the past decade, more and more younger visitors have come for music and arts festivals, said Scott White, president of Visit Greater Palm Springs. During the summer months, the temperature often exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

“For me, surf parks have a natural feel,” White said.

Desert resident and surfer Dave Hilts said he would like to try the wave pools for more training, even though he regularly goes to the beach to surf. He started the Coachella Valley Surf Club to give kids from low-income inland families a chance to surf, and works with a teacher who started a surf club at her high school in the desert.

“It’s going to bring a lot of new people into surfing who never could have surfed before,” he said.

This growth, however, worries Ruth Langridge, a senior researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who specializes in water law and policy. She said she has long been wary of large-scale development in the desert because of the demand for water – swimming pools or otherwise.

“You can lay waste an agricultural area, but you can’t lay waste a town once you’ve built it,” Langridge said. “There is a real concern about development in places where there will not be enough water.”

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