Through a state grant, the water district will offer cash rebates of up to $15,000 per acre (up to a maximum of seven acres per golf property) to encourage the area’s 123 golf courses to remove grass and replace it with desert landscaping.
The Coachella Valley’s largest water district will offering cash rebates to encourage golf courses to remove some grass and replace it with desert landscaping, the Palm Springs (Calif.) Desert Sun reported.
Golf courses will for the first time be 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. Those incentives promise to help reduce the water footprint of some of the area’s 123 golf courses, which use nearly one-fourth of the groundwater that is pumped from wells in the Coachella Valley, the Desert Sun reported.
The Coachella Valley Water District announced the new program on Friday, saying that up to $1.3 million in turf removal rebates will be awarded to golf courses during the next two-and-a-half months. The water district is using a state grant to pay for the program, the Desert Sun reported.
“We will be putting in an application for sure,” said Jonas Conlan, golf course superintendent at Desert Princess Country Club in Cathedral City, Calif. “I would like to see us take advantage of whatever the maximum allotment would be.”
The 27-hole golf course spreads across about 200 acres, with grass covering the area and hugging the shorelines of artificial lakes, the Desert Sun reported.
“We know we can at least take out seven acres, if not more, and not really affect the playability of the golf course,” Conlan said. “We probably would like to do a little bit more each year, as much as we can.”
Many of the golf courses in the Coachella Valley were designed decades ago, when water use was less of a concern. And the costs of taking out turf and putting in desert plants have inhibited many course managers from changing landscaping, particularly as their budgets have been squeezed. The rebates provided by the water district are intended to defray a portion of the cost, the Desert Sun reported.
“We know there are probably at least 30 golf courses in the valley that are taking hard looks at turf reduction,” said Craig Kessler, director of governmental affairs for the Southern California Golf Association. “As they look at the finances and the return on investment, this will prompt some of them to move now rather than later because they sense an opportunity, and it’s a short window, to at least get some of the costs handled by a turf rebate program.”
The Coachella Valley is following other areas of Southern California in paying golf courses to convert their grassy fringes to xeriscaping. In response to the drought, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California in May doubled the amount it offers to golf courses, providing $2 per square foot of grass removed. That translates to about $87,000 per acre, the Desert Sun reported.
C&RB reported on the Metropolitan Water District’s own rebate program last year (“Glendora (Calif.) CC to Receive $2.2M Rebate for Turf Reduction“).
Irrigating the golf courses in the concentrated Coachella Valley has taken a long-term toll on the valley’s aquifer, contributing to declines in groundwater levels in many areas. Water agencies have sought to gradually connect more of the courses to pipes carrying reclaimed water from sewage treatment plants as well as water from the Colorado River, the Desert Sun reported.
A tally by the Coachella Valley Water District lists a total of 53 courses that now have access to recycled water or Colorado River water. The other 70 courses rely on wells pumping groundwater. A recent Desert Sun analysis of water agencies’ data found that in 2013 the area’s golf courses used about 23.9 billion gallons of groundwater—or roughly 23 percent of the total amount drawn from wells in the Coachella Valley.
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 water district officials, and have announced a goal of cutting water use by 10 percent from 2010 levels in the coming years.
They remain far from that target: In 2013, the area’s golf courses pumped 4.2 percent more groundwater than they did in 2010. The rebates of $15,000 per acre of turf removed would cover about 86 acres, the Desert Sun reported.
“The rebates won’t cover the entire cost of turf removal, but hopefully they will be enough incentive to encourage projects with significant water saving,” CVWD General Manager Jim Barrett said in a statement announcing the program.
A separate report by the Desert Sun noted that officials at Ironwood Country Club, with its two 18-hole courses, plan to remove 40 acres of grass from the property, well over the CVWD’s cap for rebates.
Funding comes from a $5.2 million state Proposition 84 grant that was awarded to the Coachella Valley Regional Water Management Group, which includes the area’s five public water agencies. While planning the program, CVWD officials received input from golf course managers during meetings and through an online survey. Of 30 golf course representatives who responded to the survey, 60 percent said they are very likely to remove turf and replace it with low-water-use landscaping within the next five years, the Desert Sun reported.
It can cost a golf course roughly $30,000 per acre to convert turf to desertscape, said Dean Miller, director of agronomy at PGA West, the Citrus Club, and La Quinta Resort & Club. For courses throughout the area, he said the rebates will “make it more affordable for the clubs to be able to look at these options.”
Stu Rowland, director of golf course operations at Rancho La Quinta Country Club, said his club will take advantage of the program, but most likely next year—provided the funding is still available—so that there is time to plan and budget for a project, the Desert Sun reported.
“This program is crucial if we are going to sustain long-term water use reductions,” Rowland said in an email. “It’s a great start and hopefully the funding will continue as we work to achieve our goals 2020 and beyond.”