PALM DESERT — Managers of Coachella Valley golf courses have pledged to step up their water conservation efforts, aiming for a goal of cutting their water use by 10 percent.
A group of golf course managers discussed their objective of reducing their water footprint during a meeting last week that included officials of the Coachella Valley Water District. Representatives of golf courses have invited the water agency to participate in monthly meetings of a new water conservation task force.
One of the group’s initial steps was to approve a “mission statement” in which they agreed to meet or exceed the goals of the Coachella Valley Water Management Plan, which in 2010 set of a goal of reducing water use on golf courses by 10 percent.
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“The leadership of the industry is committed to the 10 percent,” said Craig Kessler, director of governmental affairs for the Southern California Golf Association. “It is not a response to the drought. It is a response to the whole notion of long-term sustainability.”
Water use by the Coachella Valley’s 124 golf courses has contributed to significant long-term declines in groundwater levels. A majority of courses depend on groundwater pumping for irrigation.
The Coachella Valley Water District recently announced plans to speed up efforts to hook up more golf courses to supplies of recycled water and Colorado River water. A total of 22 golf courses now use a mix of recycled water and Colorado River water, while 28 other courses use canal water that comes directly from the Colorado River.
Managers of golf courses have expressed interest in seeing more such hookups completed.
Kessler said some of the discussion during Wednesday’s private meeting also focused on a “recognition of the need to expedite water conservation mechanisms over and above non-potable conversion.”
Reductions in water use can be achieved in multiple ways, Kessler said, including reducing areas with irrigated turf and changing other irrigation practices.
The Coachella Valley has one of the highest concentrations of golf courses in the nation, and its economy has grown alongside the golf business.
The area has traditionally enjoyed relatively inexpensive water and privileged rights to imported Colorado River water, while other areas in Arizona and Nevada with tighter water supplies have imposed rules that have led to the design of many courses with less grass and more desert landscaping.
“There are no quick fixes,” said Kessler, who was appointed as spokesman for the task force during the meeting. “But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to start doing things seriously now that will accumulate and accelerate over a period of years, and add up to change.”
In a series of articles last year, The Desert Sun documented long-term declines in the aquifer. An analysis of well records showed that water levels across the Coachella Valley fell by an average of 55 feet since 1970. The declines were especially large in areas such as Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert, which are farthest from ponds in Palm Springs and La Quinta where imported water reaches ponds that replenish the aquifer.
Total water usage by the area’s golf courses in 2010 will be used as a baseline for measuring their performance toward the 10 percent goal, said Dan Farris, director of operations for the Coachella Valley Water District.
A previous 2002 version of the water management plan set a goal of reducing golf courses’ water use by 5 percent, and the courses met that goal.
Kessler said there is a consensus among managers of the area’s courses that it makes sense to be proactive in water conservation.
During the past several years, courses in Los Angeles have been given monthly water “budgets” spelling out how much each course should use. San Diego recently adopted a similar program for golf courses.
In the Coachella Valley, efforts to shift golf courses to other sources — such as recycled water — have taken on new urgency as the state copes with extreme drought. But those efforts are also limited by logistics and the costs of extending new water pipes.
The Classic Club in Palm Desert is set to become the next golf club to begin using a blend of recycled water and Colorado River water later this month.
The Coachella Valley Water District budgeted about $2.3 million for the work of connecting the Classic Club. The water will soon be delivered through purple pipes, which are used to differentiate supplies of non-potable water.
Ronald M. Auen, president of the H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation, which owns the Classic Club, said the project has been contemplated since the golf club was designed.
“The Classic Club included purple pipes in the original infrastructure of the golf course and has been ready for recycled water since the beginning of the development,” Auen said in a statement. He said the Berger Foundation decided to install the pipes on its property in an effort to save potable water.
As for the water district, it installed a purple pipe to the Classic Club a couple of years ago, CVWD spokeswoman Heather Engel said.
She said a final step in the work has to do with bringing electricity to a metering vault, after which water should begin to flow through purple pipes to the course by the mid-February.