According to an analysis by the Desert Sun, golf courses in the region fell short of statewide efforts to reduce water use by 25%. Montecito Country Club in Santa Barbara, Calif., is addressing the water concerns by renovating the golf course using low-water grass, an updated irrigation system, native trees and improved drainage in a project expected to be complete by the end of 2017.
An analysis of data provided by water districts reveals that golf courses in the Coachella Valley used just 8% less water during the 12-month period ending in May as compared to the same months in 2013, despite state-wide efforts achieve 25% water savings, the Palm Springs, Calif., Desert Sun reported.
That overall decrease in golf courses’ water use includes groundwater pumped from wells as well as water from the Colorado River. When those two main sources are considered together, the records show the area’s golf courses used more than 87,000 acre-feet of water, or 28.5 billion gallons, in those 12 months, the Desert Sun reported.
The numbers reveal that one of the country’s biggest concentrations of golf courses—the valley has 121 in all—has been conserving much less than residential and other water customers, many of whom have been hit with penalties on bills if they miss their conservation targets, the Desert Sun reported.
Since June 2015, people who receive drinking water from the Coachella Valley Water District have cut back a cumulative 25.3% as compared to 2013, which state officials are using as the baseline year. The Desert Water Agency’s customers reduced their water use 27.5% during the same period.
The drought, one of the most severe in California’s recorded history, is now in its fifth year. The state water board relaxed its emergency drought regulations in June after a wetter winter helped raise the levels of California’s main reservoirs. With that change, none of the valley’s golf courses are now under mandatory orders to cut back, the Desert Sun reported.
But during the past year, between June 2015 and May 2016, when the most stringent drought regulations were in effect, all golf courses using water from private wells were ordered to do one of two things: either limit watering to two days a week, which is impractical in the desert climate, or reduce their water use 25% from 2013 levels. The monthly records provided by the Coachella Valley Water District and the Desert Water Agency show that requirement hasn’t been met by the golf sector as a whole, the Desert Sun reported.
Within the overall 8% decrease in water use, golf courses’ pumping of groundwater decreased substantially more, by 21%. That decline partly reflects one of the water districts’ strategic priorities: connecting more golf courses to pipes carrying Colorado River water and recycled water in order to combat the long-term problem of declining groundwater levels, the Desert Sun reported.
In the past three years, the Coachella Valley Water District has started supplying an additional four golf courses with either Colorado River water or a mix of river water and recycled water, enabling those courses to use less water from their wells. A total of 67 golf courses, or 55% of the valley’s total, continue to rely solely on groundwater pumped from wells, the Desert Sun reported.
At the same time, golf courses used 36% more water from the Colorado River as compared to three years ago.
“I read the numbers the way you read the numbers. It hasn’t been complied with. I don’t think the state ever expected them to be complied with because there was no enforcement mechanism,” said Craig Kessler, director of governmental affairs for the Southern California Golf Association. “I think everyone understood that it would fall short because up until 2014 there wasn’t even legislation on the books that gave any agency of government in California the ability so much as to impose any regulation on groundwater use. So we’re in the infancy of this.”
Montecito Country Club in Santa Barbara, Calif., is getting a new green golf course and millions of dollars in renovations that will be completed by the end of 2017, the Santa Barbara-based KEYT-TV reported.
The changes are becoming more visible to passersby who see the tan soil getting covered with rolls of green sod—a low-water use grass picked specifically for this project. The “greens” at each hole will have grass grown from seed, KEYT reported.
After five years of drought, water use has been in the forefront of the design plan according to project manager Bill Medel with Ty Warner Hotels and Resorts. “It’s gone through many changes and each change it has gone through has been for the better,” said Medel. “We’re pretty excited about this.”
Golfing legend and course designer Jack Nicklaus has personally created the course with Santa Barbara in mind, along with the water concerns the community strives for. Irrigation is coming from a reclaimed facility nearby instead of fresh water from a well or other city supply line, KEYT reported.
“In the drought situation, we have gone from 95 irrigated acres down to 75 irrigated acres. This is a state of the art irrigation system,” said Medel.
Some of the changes include native trees, and a wetland area. The golf course has a base of sand that will help with drainage on the property and water coming down from the nearby hills. The completed course and the main building will be opened together in later 2017. While it is a member-based club, the facility will be available for local non-profit events, KEYT reported.