Stormwater Protection & Flood Control

Flood Control
The Coachella Valley is an arid desert region averaging less than 3 inches of rain per year. However the surrounding mountains are subject to much higher rainfall rates which can produce unpredictable, damaging, and even deadly flash flooding events throughout the Coachella Valley. As a result of these damaging flooding events, the Coachella Valley Stormwater District was formed in 1915 to control regional flooding.

Longtime residents know that when storms do arrive, streets quickly can turn into well-functioning but rapid flood channels. And, areas previously overlooked as grassy, low-lying neighborhood lots, suddenly become the retention basins they were designed to be.

Many of the facilities that exist today were built or improved in the 1970s in cooperation with cities and other agencies following severe floods. Such cooperation is vital because while the district is responsible for most flood control facilities, responsibility for streets, bridges, and related infrastructure rests with other levels of government, such as counties and cities.

Today, CVWD protects 590 square miles from flooding.
Stormwater Protection
Within CVWD's boundaries there are 16 stormwater protection channels. The entire system includes approximately 135 miles of channels built along the natural alignment of dry creeks that naturally flow from the surrounding mountains into the Whitewater River.

Along with the channels, a number of dikes and levees have been designed and built to collect rapidly flowing flood water as it pours from the adjacent mountains onto the valley floor. These are mostly located in the cove communities.

The backbone of the stormwater protection system is a 50-mile storm channel that runs from the Whitewater area north of Palm Springs to the Salton Sea. The western half of the channel runs along the natural alignment of the Whitewater River that cuts diagonally across the valley to Point Happy in La Quinta (near Highway 111 and Washington Street). Because the riverbed flattens out naturally in the eastern valley, downstream from Point Happy a man-made storm channel funnels flood waters to the Salton Sea.

The entire length of this flood protection facility is known as the Whitewater River / Coachella Valley Stormwater Channel.

The channel was built to withstand a standard project flood, or approximately a flow of 80,000 cubic feet per second. A standard project flood is greater than a 100-year flood.

Stormwater protection is funded primarily from local property taxes. Unfortunately, this limits expansion of the stormwater system. The Thousand Palms area and rural areas in the eastern Coachella Valley areas from Oasis to Salton City do not currently have flood protection, although the district is working with federal agencies to expand flood protection to these areas.

What You Can Do
  • Be mindful. Flash floods do occur in the Coachella Valley and all residents must be aware when storms hover over nearby mountains. Residents, and especially children, should stay out of the flood control channels before and during all storms.
  • Be patient. Many of the valley’s streets were designed to funnel water to the stormwater channels. Street closures, though inconvenient during a storm, are absolutely necessary to prevent loss of life and extensive property damage.
  • Comply with road closures and other directions of emergency personnel. Desert storms can be very deceptive. Flows can be strong enough to cause a car or truck to lose traction and float away in as little as 2 feet of slow-moving water. As little as six inches of fast-moving water can push a car off the road.