How Will the California Drought Affect Coachella?

Michael Bezjian/WireImage for Heineken
Atmosphere at Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio, California.  

With Coachella's half-million-plus attendees headed to the verdant desert of Indio this weekend, how will the fest cope with Governor Brown's new mandate?

Following his declaration of a state of emergency around California's water supply in January of last year, Governor Jerry Brown this past week issued an executive order centered on mandatory water reductions throughout the state. "This historic drought demands unprecedented action," said Governor Brown during a press conference on April 1.

The order mandates a 25 percent reduction in water usage statewide, a goal which will be met through focusing on the replacement of 50 million square feet of green lawns with "drought tolerant landscaping." As well, "campuses, golf courses, cemeteries and other large landscapes" will be required to make steep reductions in their water usage. It can be assumed that the change would include the Empire Polo Club, where Goldenvoice's Coachella and Stagecoach festivals are to be held on three consecutive weekends beginning April 10.

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So what does this mean for Coachella and Stagecoach, the first which will kick off its premiere weekend this Friday? Goldenvoice isn't saying, having refused multiple requests for comment from Billboard.

While neither the Empire Polo Club nor the office of Gov. Brown responded to a request for comment on Goldenvoice's situation at press time, the Empire Polo Club's president did tell The Desert Sun that a reduction of the ground's usage of groundwater was planned; but that it would continue to use its source of agricultural irrigation, which is less-restricted under Gov. Grown's rules. Reading between the lines, that likely means little impact for the flora and fauna of Goldenvoice's cash cows.

Scott Trujillo, coordinator of Indio's water conservation efforts under the Indio Water Authority, tells Billboard in an email that "partnership with the community is key to weathering the drought. IWA is working to develop a plan to reduce water use by 25 percent in response to Gov. Brown’s executive order that called for the state’s first-ever mandatory water restrictions." Trujillo continued, writing that "the new mandates should have no negative impact on the music festivals."

However, a press release from IWA points out that water should only be served to patrons of "restaurants, bars, clubs... or other public places where food and drink is served" only if requested. As well, the use of fountains is prohibited unless the works are integral to a fire prevention or permanent irrigation system.

(Last week the fest posted a tongue-in-cheek advertisement for its new bathroom facility, which features 324 stalls.)

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Last year's state of emergency seemed to have little effect on the musical oasis' enormous success (579,000 attendees and $78.3 million), but a required water usage reduction, which the man-made oasis of the Empire Polo Club which Goldenvoice leases for Coachella and Stagecoach -- with its 78 acres and a desert location, would no doubt come under the Governor's mandate.

Even consumer usage of water in Palm Springs is troublesome, as the New York Times pointed out in a feature published over the weekend. The paper wrote:

This disconnect, as it were, can be seen in places like Palm Springs, in the middle of the desert, where daily per capita water use is 201 gallons — more than double the state average. A recent drive through the community offered a drought-defying tableau of burbling fountains, flowers, lush lawns, golf courses and trees. The smell of mowed lawn was in the air.

While Palm Springs and neighboring Indio are two of the state's thirstiest cities, they pale in comparison to the oil industry, which uses 2 million gallons of fresh water each day for fracking operations -- and is exempt from the Governor's mandate.