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BCP - Coachella Canal Rehabilitation and Betterment
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Boulder Canyon Project - Hoover Dam
General Description| Plan| Development| Benefits


General Description

Early operations of the irrigation facilities serving the Coachella Valley revealed several deficiencies inherent in the Coachella Canal and distribution system as constructed. The most serious were the lack of regulatory storage reservoirs along the main canal; lack of fine control on water movement through the main canal due to the distance between check structures and inability to reach those structures under certain conditions; the inability to get designed deliveries through farm turnout structures; and unexpected operating problems caused by accumulation of moss and debris in the main canal.

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The general nature and purpose of the rehabilitation and betterment (R&B) program was to install a supervisory remote control and telemetering system for operating the canal and distribution system; to construct a terminal reservoir; dikes No. 2 and 4, and Avenue 64 Evacuation Channel; and to install traveling screens, a new check gate, and rehabilitate an existing check gate in the canal. Dike No. 2 extends from near Avenue 58 to the north end of Coral Reef near Avenue 59. Dike No. 4 extends from the south end of Coral Reef from below Avenue 59 to below Avenue 65. These dikes protect the area from floodwaters discharged from the upstream canyons and provide detention reservoirs to store the floodwaters. These excess flows are released through the Avenue 64 Evacuation Channel, which extends about 6 miles to the Whitewater Storm Channel.

The terminal reservoir, Lake Cahuilla, at the end of the Coachella Canal on the west side of the valley, provides regulatory storage of irrigation water and impounds storm waters from the mountains to the west. It also serves as a temporary reservoir for La Quinta area floodwaters. Constructed in 1969, the lake is 3,960 feet long by 1,980 feet wide, 11 to 12 feet deep, and holds about 1,500 acre-feet of water. When constructed, it was the largest soil-cement-lined reservoir in the world.

Facility Description

See Boulder Canyon Project - All American Canal System, Coachella Canal.

Operating Agency

The entire distribution system and the Coachella Main Canal are operated and maintained by the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD).

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The Boulder Canyon Project Act of December 21, 1928, authorized construction of an All-American Canal system (including the Coachella Canal) to deliver irrigation water to Imperial and Coachella Valleys, California, and a distribution system in Coachella Valley. Construction of the underground distribution system, the first of its size and magnitude constructed by the Bureau of Reclamation, was completed in 1954. It consists of gravity flow concrete pipelines, with a few small pumping plants serving the higher areas.  The network of laterals totals 495 miles. The distribution system was transferred to CVWD for operation and maintenance on a section-by-section basis as each construction unit was completed. Formal transfer of the system was made in July 1954.

The Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Project Act of 1974 provided for the concrete lining of the initial 49 miles of Coachella Canal to reduce seepage losses. The concrete lining work was completed in 1980, and operation and maintenance was transferred to the district on November 1, 1981.

The facilities being operated and maintained by CVWD include the Coachella Canal and appurtenant flood control works, and an underground distribution system capable of serving about 78,530 irrigable acres. The system can serve about 70,000 acres; the remaining 8,530 acres are primarily Indian lands to which extensions and turnouts are being constructed by the District under contract of October 14, 1958, entered into with the Secretary of the Interior (Bureau of Indian Affairs) pursuant to the act of August 28, 1958 (72 Stat. 968). At the end of calendar year 1982, about 57,000 acres in the valley had been developed and were receiving Colorado River water through the federally constructed system. Several hundred additional acres under the system are irrigated entirely with ground water from private wells.


The CVWD initiated preliminary surveys and investigations in 1960 to develop a program of betterment and improvement which would eliminate most of the inadequacies and efficiencies in the original system. These investigations were followed by an application to the Bureau of Reclamation for a Federal loan to undertake the R&B on the irrigation system. A favorable report was completed in February 1961.


The loan was authorized under the provisions of the Rehabilitation and Betterment Act of October 7, 1949 (63 Stat. 74), as amended March 3, 1950 (64 Stat. 11).


The R&B work was begun by CVWD in January 1964 and was essentially completed in 1977.

Recent Developments

In October 2003, the San Diego County Water Authority, Coachella Valley Water District, Imperial Irrigation District, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the state of California, and the U.S. Department of the Interior completed a complex set of agreements to conserve and transfer Colorado River water. One of the key agreements, known as the Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement, settled decades of dispute over Colorado River water use and provided a means for California to live within its 4.4-million-acre-foot basic annual apportionment of water from the Colorado River.  

Projects to line the All-American and Coachella canals were critical components of the Quantification Settlement Agreement. As part of this agreement, the San Diego Water Authority obtained the rights to the canal lining water. This amounts to 77,700 acre-feet per year for 110 years from the lining of these canals. The lining conserves water lost due to seepage and helps California reduce its overdependence on Colorado River water. Under this agreement, 35 miles of parallel, concrete-lined canal were constructed next to the existing Coachella Canal; all work was completed in Dec 2006. 

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CVWD's service area covers approximately 1,000 square miles mostly within the Coachella Valley in Riverside County, California. The boundaries also extend into small portions of Imperial and San Diego counties. About 280,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water from the 122-mile-long Coachella Canal serve the Valley's nearly 60,000 acres of farmland, which are among the most productive in the world, generating per-acre yields that are among the highest anywhere on the planet. The underground system used to irrigate this acreage continues to attract irrigation specialists from throughout the world, more than a half century after it was built. Almost all the farmland is irrigated with Colorado River water delivered by the Coachella Canal.

Municipal and Industrial Water

CVWD delivers drinking water from an underground aquifer to more than 105,000 homes and businesses in a 640,000 acre service area. The aquifer is “refilled” using Colorado River water, diverted into the Whitewater River or pumped to other recharge sites.


The recreation facilities at Lake Cahuilla were developed by the Riverside County Department of Parks under a lease agreement with the CVWD. Picnicking, swimming, camping, boating, and fishing for trout, bass, and catfish are popular activities. For specific information about recreation activities at Lake Cahuilla, click below:

Lake Cahuilla


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Last updated: Jan 30, 2012