In a part of the Coachella Valley where exclusive neighborhoods wrap around lush golf courses and ponds, a stretch of open desert could be transformed into a new sort of artificial oasis.
A developer has plans for hundreds of homes and a resort featuring a surfing lagoon. If La Quinta, California's City Council endorses the proposal, the sandy ground at the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains would become the site of a 12-acre pool where surfers could take off on sculpted lines of peeling waves.
A group of residents has organized to fight the proposed wave pool, and one of their primary concerns is water. They argue that, with the Colorado River in a shortage and the Southwest getting hotter and drier with climate change, the area can't afford to have millions of gallons of precious water filling the giant water feature.
"It's mind-boggling," said Alena Callimanis, a resident. "You just can't do a surf park in the middle of the desert, and here, with our drought conditions. It's just crazy."
Callimanis and others formed La Quinta Residents for Responsible Development last year to oppose plans for the wave pool. They say the water should instead be saved, and that surfers can drive about two hours to the Pacific coast to find plenty of waves. They argue that it's wrong to be allowing new surf parks while Californians are being told to conserve water.
"There's got to be a moratorium on this type of building, this type of excess water use," Callimanis said, looking across the property, its dry soil dominated by creosote bushes. "Why do we have to reproduce an ocean wave experience in the middle of the desert? This is the desert, for Pete's sake."
That outrage is part of a larger debate over how life and commerce should adapt to worsening water scarcity in a valley that has long been marketed as a desert playground.
There are about 120 golf courses in the Coachella Valley, which depend on groundwater pumped from wells and water imported from the shrinking Colorado River, as well as some recycled water. The area's many lush, grass-filled developments have contributed to some of the highest residential per-capita water use rates in the state.
For decades, the valley's resort aesthetic has featured cascading waterfalls, swimming pools and lakes where residents can water ski or moor their boats at private docks. The 18-million-gallon surf park in La Quinta is one of at least five wave pools or lagoons that are planned here.
The developer of the 386-acre Coral Mountain project is requesting a zoning change for what was once slated to be a residential development with a golf course. Instead, they now want to build the wave park along with 600 homes and a hotel with up to 150 rooms.