The Coachella Valley is located in the lower Colorado Desert region of southern California. It is bordered by the San Jacinto, Santa Rosa and San Bernardino mountains and is part of the Whitewater watershed that drains into the Salton Sea. The highest peaks in the surrounding mountains are Mt. San Jacinto (10,804') and Mt. San Gorgonio (11,499'). Elevations on the Valley floor range from 1600' above sea level at the upper end of the Valley near Palm Springs to 250' below sea level at the Salton Sink.
Rainfall is extremely limited with average annual precipitation rates of 2 to 4". Most rainfall occurs during winter months though high intensity rains can sometimes occur during the mid-summer producing flash floods and severe erosion.
Seasonal winds can be a problem in some regions of the Valley. Windstorms most frequently occur in the late spring and can cause extensive damage to unprotected soils, plants, structures and vehicles. Airborne dust carried by these winds can compromise air quality and respiratory health. Since 1956 research and implementation of wind erosion control measures has been an ongoing CVRCD program focus.
Annual temperature variations in the Coachella Valley are extreme with occasional winter lows in the mid 20s (F) and occasional summer highs in the mid 120s (F). The mean annual temperature is 74(F). The Valley offers a 300 day frost free growing season with some crops grown successfully through the entire year.
The complexity of soil characteristics in the Coachella Valley dramatically affects virtually all land uses including the cultivation of agricultural crops, landscape ornamentals and turfgrass.
Coachella Valley soils originate from two main sources: sediment deposits from ancient Lake Cauhilla and weathered rock from the surrounding mountains. Deposited by wind and water, these parent materials combine to create a large variety and complex distribution of distinctive soil types throughout the Valley.
In general, soils at lower elevations of the Valley floor are composed of fine textured sedimentary materials that are classified as silts and silty loams. Much of Coachella Valley's production agriculture is found on these fine textured soils. They have greater water holding capacities than the coarser sands, gravels and rocks that are found at higher elevations near the surrounding mountains and alluvial fans.
Compaction and stratification (layering) of different soil types are often seen in the finer textured soils of the Valley. Both of these soil characteristics can reduce rates of water penetration, nutrient availability, root growth and other components of healthy plant development and production. CVRCD and local NRCS researchers have been leaders in studying the use of deep mechanical plowing (slip plowing) as a way to increase plant growth, plant health and crop production in compacted and stratified soils.
Most of the soils in the Valley are moderately to severely alkaline with pH levels up to 8.4. Such high pH makes essential minerals such as iron, manganese and magnesium chemically unavailable for plant use. If managed improperly high soil pH levels can reduce or eliminate plant growth and crop production.
There are three major sources of water in the Coachella Valley. Groundwater is used for drinking, industry and irrigation. Colorado River water delivered to the Coachella Valley through the Coachella branch of the All-American canal is primarily used for agricultural, fish farm, golf course and landscape irrigation. Reclaimed, tertiary-treated, domestic wastewater is used for golf course, landscape and greenbelt irrigation.
Long growing season, high quality irrigation water, manageable soils and market proximity make production agriculture a major industry in the Valley. In 2007 there were over 60,000 harvested acres producing a gross return of over $500,000,000. Due to its mild winter climate, the Coachella Valley is also a major tourist, retirement and recreational area hosting over 125 golf courses.
The Coachella Valley markets over 60 varieties of orchard and vegetable crops. The main cash crops include citrus, dates, table grapes, melons, corn, lettuce, carrots, broccoli and a number of specialty vegetables.
Urban agriculture and turfgrass are also critical to the aesthetics and economics of development in the Coachella Valley. Over 40,000 acres of the Valley are planted in turfgrass. By some estimates turfgrass generates close to a billion dollars of direct and indirect local revenue each year from golf courses.