There's no such thing as a responsible surfing resort in the desert

·2 min read
A rendering of the wave basin planned at the Coral Mountain development in La Quinta.
A rendering of the wave basin planned at the Coral Mountain development in La Quinta.

John Gamlin’s recent defense of his Coral Mountain wave basin resort in The Desert Sun (guest column, May 8) fails to address the main issue. Planning development according to historic water levels is extremely naive in the desert, and we have seen this story pan out before.

In 1959, the North Shore Beach and Yacht Club opened on the shore of the Salton Sea — a massive lake created in the early 1900s when engineers accidentally flooded the ancient basin with diverted Colorado River water intended to irrigate the dry, fertile Imperial Valley.

Today, we still use Colorado River water to supplement the valley’s need for water. The resort development built on this “sea” attracted many big names in entertainment, including the Beach Boys and Jerry Lewis, to swim, boat, and waterski. Today, the lake has shrunk and continues to shrink as it evaporates, leaving a toxic expanse in its wake.

The issue is, we are naive when we develop in such arid areas under the assumption that more water will always be available, just at a cost.

Sydney Hayes
Sydney Hayes

Temperatures have trended upward over the past decades as climate change causes more extreme conditions globally. Droughts are predicted to persist and worsen in the West. Paradoxically, that can lead to floods, because when it finally does rain a lot at once, overly dry soil can't absorb all of the water.

If we are to further develop the Coachella Valley, that calls for the paving of the desert.

Pavement can reach temperatures of 120 to 150 degrees in the summer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Not only does developing the desert make it hotter, it also prevents more rain from being absorbed into the dirt and replenishing our groundwater.

We must look at the big picture and stop encouraging people to move to the Coachella Valley from elsewhere, because expanding our cities will exacerbate our issues with drought and heat while increasing our demand for water that is drying up everywhere in the West.

The federal government announced on May 3 that it would withhold a large amount of water in Lake Powell, the second-largest reservoir on the Colorado River, as its levels have declined over recent years of drought to historical lows.

If this is what the future looks like for the West (and it seems increasingly likely if the world doesn’t band together and aggressively combat climate change), I see no future for gimmick resorts that could dry up in a decade.

The desert needs to shift its focus to sustaining its local residents rather than serving its seasonal tourists. If it doesn’t, visitors will continue to exploit the beauty of the region while locals bear the costs.

Sydney Hayes is from Indio and a student majoring in environmental studies and economics at Bowdoin College.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Coral Mountain La Quinta wave basin irresponsible in a desert | Column

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