Leaders of an association of Coachella Valley golf courses on Sunday reiterated a pledge to reduce their water footprint and said they intend to meet new state drought measures even though they don’t appear to directly fall under Gov. Jerry Brown’s order for a 25-percent cut in statewide water use.
The Hi-Lo Desert Chapter of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America issued a joint statement together with the Southern California Golf Association and three other golf organizations responding to Brown’s executive order, which calls for mandatory water restrictions.
“Because they are not ‘domestic users’ under the terms of the Order, Coachella Valley’s golf courses do not come under the gubernatorial directive,” the groups said in the statement. However, they said, managers of golf courses in the area are committed to accelerating their efforts to reduce water use.
“Shared sacrifice unites communities,” the golf organizations said. “The Coachella Valley golf community is committed to working across all communities and all lines to share in the difficult work ahead.”
The golf organizations said they will encourage their members “to voluntarily comply with the terms of the Governor’s Order as they are ultimately defined and prescribed by the Coachella Valley Water District.”
The Coachella Valley has a total of 123 golf courses, one of the largest concentrations in the country. According to a tally by the Coachella Valley Water District, 53 of those golf courses have access to Colorado River water or recycled water. The other 70 golf courses rely on wells that pump groundwater.
Golf courses account for nearly one-fourth of the water that is pumped from the ground in the Coachella Valley, and the water table has been declining over the years in much of the area.
Local golf courses last year announced a goal of cutting water use by 10 percent from 2010 levels in the coming years, a target that is also specified in the Coachella Valley’s long-term water management plan.
The golf courses’ water use has risen somewhat since 2010, so reaching that goal will actually require a reduction of about 17 percent, said Craig Kessler, director of governmental affairs for the Southern California Golf Association.
“The pledge in this joint communique is aspirational,” Kessler said in an email. “These industry leadership organizations are going to jawbone their constituents and members to abide by restrictions that are not mandatory; they are yet to even be defined by CVWD.”
The water district’s board plans to consider how they will respond to the new statewide drought measures at their next meeting on April 28.
The governor’s order, in addition to mandating a 25-percent statewide reduction in urban water usage, calls for the State Water Resources Control Board to impose restrictions aimed at cutting the use of potable water by golf courses, cemeteries, campuses and other types of properties.
However, the Coachella Valley Water District says that doesn’t appear to apply directly to golf courses that pump groundwater from their own wells, nor to those that rely on untreated water from the Colorado River (which reaches the area via canal and is considered non-potable water).
“CVWD’s interpretation is that private well owners are exempt from the governor’s order, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t voluntarily meet those restrictions or do their part to conserve water,” said Heather Engel, the water district’s director of communication and conservation.
The State Water Resources Control Board has yet to draw up specific water restrictions based on the governor’s order. Max Gomberg, a senior environmental scientist with the State Water Board, said last week that because about two-thirds of the state’s 866 golf courses use potable water, “there’s definitely an interest in figuring out how to reduce the amount of water that’s being used for irrigating golf courses.”
Gomberg told The Desert Sun that as the water board acts on the governor’s order, state officials will need to work out the details of “how to ensure conservation by people on private wells, particularly businesses on private wells like golf courses.”
Following a 2013 Desert Sun series that documented declines in groundwater levels, a group of golf course managers announced they were creating a task force to focus on reducing water use. Managers of golf courses have since been meeting regularly with CVWD officials to work out their next water-saving steps.
The task force has come up with individualized “water budgets” for golf courses, and last month the water district sent letters to the managers of courses encouraging them to voluntarily meet those targets.
The water district in January also began offering cash rebates to encourage golf courses to remove some grass and replace it with desert landscaping. Golf courses were able to apply for rebates of up to $15,000 per acre of turf removed, up to a maximum of seven acres, or $105,000. Kessler said that 19 golf courses applied for the funding during a seven-week period.
“The culture of the CV golf community is changing,” Kessler said. “The look of the valley’s golf courses is going to move steadily toward a desert look as opposed to the parkland look that characterizes so many of them, particularly the older ones.”
In their statement, which was emailed to several news organizations, the golf industry groups referred to concerns about long-term declines in the Coachella Valley’s aquifer, which they characterized as being “in a state of mild overdraft.” Other golf organizations listed on the statement included the Golden State Chapter of the Club Manager’s Association of America, the Southern California Section of the PGA of America, and the California Golf Course Owners Association.
Ian James can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @TDSIanJames.