The centre opened in 26 March 2010, after taking two years to build the £13.3m venue, which is the first on-demand white water centre in the UK. The facility was designed by French company, HydroStadium, who designed similar courses for the Sydney, Athens and Beijing Olympics.
Plans for the CIWW were revealed and approved in 2006 and the centre was originally due to open in 200,. with an original estimated cost of £8.4m and funding support from the Welsh Assembly Government, Sportlot, the Welsh Canoe Association and the Heritage Lottery fund. In November 2008, a 180-tonne crane was constructed on the site in order to start work on a temporary dam that held back the water while four large pumps were installed. The crane was then floated on a pontoon in the River Ely to create a retained water pool separating the course from the river. The CIWW centre was developed by Cardiff Council for full international and Olympic competition use. The facility could be used for some of the 2012 London Olympics events, and 50,000 people are also expected to use it each year.
The Welsh Canoe Association and the British Canoeing Association agreed to give £500,000 funding to the development. Unlike the National Whitewater Centre in Bala, the facility does not need to rely on the elements to run.
The Cardiff International White Water centre is the first on-demand white water rafting faciltiy in the UK. The 250 metre hairpin-shaped course can hold up to 16 cubic metres of water per second when being used for full international competitions but for recreational use it will generally hold only 8 cubic metres.