The valley's cities, farms and golf courses rely on both groundwater and Colorado River water.
"I know the rest of California is in a major drought. But we here have an abundance of water," said Paula Turner, a resident who said she hoped to build a home next to the surf park.
John Gamlin, president of CM Wave Development LLC said the wave basin's annual use was estimated at 26 million gallons, much less than a golf course, which in the desert can use as much as 1 million gallons a day.
However, opponents disputed the developer's estimate of how much water would evaporate from the pool, arguing that with crashing waves and heat, evaporation would require significantly more refilling.
Karen Tomcala, a La Quinta resident, urged the City Council to reject the zoning change, saying they should instead approve another sort of development that would "bring revenue to the city without draining the precious water resources on which our very existence depends."
"You are the leaders that determine what La Quinta stands for," Tomcala said, "and how we stand in the community in a time of climate change that is truly frightening."
The Colorado River's flow has shrunk dramatically during a 23-year megadrought that research shows is being worsened by global heating. Southern California water districts are under pressure to shoulder substantial reductions as the federal government pushes for solutions to prevent the river's largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, from dropping to dangerously low levels.
Jay Famiglietti, a water scientist who leads the Global Institute of Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan, sent a letter to the City Council underlining the severity of the situation.
"My research has shown, simply put, that California and the southwestern U.S. are running out of water," Famiglietti said in the letter, which was read during the meeting. "The Colorado River basin is drying up, Lakes Powell and Mead are at unprecedented low levels, and cuts to surface water allocations are actively being negotiated."
Famiglietti said that depletion of groundwater in the region is far outstripping the water losses in Lake Mead and Lake Powell. He said the region's water supplies are "rapidly declining due to climate change, overallocation, and the mismanagement of groundwater," all of which "indicates that every drop counts, and stronger conservation efforts will be needed to secure La Quinta's water future."