The draft regulations would require golf courses using private wells and other commercial properties relying on an “independent source of water supply” to limit irrigation to two days a week or achieve a 25 percent reduction in water use.
On April 18, California’s State Water Resources Control Board proposed new emergency drought rules that would require golf courses using private wells to make significant cutbacks in water use, The Desert Sun of Palm Springs, Calif. reported.
Under the draft regulations released by the board, golf courses and other commercial properties that rely on an “independent source of water supply” would be required to limit irrigation to two days a week or achieve a 25 percent reduction in water use, The Desert Sun reported.
The water board’s proposals follow Gov. Jerry Brown’s order for a mandatory 25-percent statewide reduction in urban water use on April 1, and made it clear that golf courses using their own wells would fall under those rules, The Desert Sun reported.
A majority of the 122 golf courses in the Coachella Valley region that includes Palm Springs, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio and other popular golfing areas rely on private wells, The Desert Sun reported.
With one of the largest concentrations of golf courses in the country, those properties use nearly one-fourth of the water that is pumped from the ground in the area, it was noted.
According to a recent tally by the Coachella Valley Water District, 53 of the area’s golf courses have access to recycled water or water from the Colorado River. The other 69 golf courses rely on wells that pump groundwater, The Desert Sun reported.
“It appears that the golf courses using well water will be required to participate in a measurable way in the state mandates [and] exactly how will be determined by [the Coachella Valley Water District],” Craig Kessler, Director of Governmental Affairs for the Southern California Golf Association, told The Desert Sun. “There’s still flexibility in this and quite honestly there’s ambiguity built into this.”
Officials of the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) had said initially that based on the wording of Brown’s order, all golf courses appeared to be exempt from the mandatory cutbacks. Heather Engel, the district’s Director of Communication and Conservation, said the new measures appear to indicate that a 25-percent mandate applies to golf courses that use wells.
State officials are accepting public comments on the draft rules through April 22 and then plan to release proposed regulations on April 28, The Desert Sun reported. The state water board will then decide on the measures at a meeting in early May.
Questions remain about how the rules would be enforced and what role, if any, local water districts would play in overseeing reductions in water use by golf courses, The Desert Sun reported
“The big question is, are the water districts going to be required to enforce it and report it?” Engel said.
Caren Trgovcich, Chief Deputy Director of the state water board, said golf courses fall into a category of “self-supplied commercial, industrial and institutional properties.”
“We’re basically telling them that they either have to limit outdoor irrigation to 2 days per week—so it’s the same standard for them as it is for the water suppliers—or meet 25 percent,” Trgovcich told reporters on a conference call. “We are not asking them to submit reports to us as we are of the small water suppliers, but we are telling them to keep information on hand, so that if there are situations where local water suppliers identify water waste or we receive complaints and we follow up on them, that they have the information to back up that 25-percent or two-day-per-week requirement.”
The measures affect potable water but not the use of recycled water, The Desert Sun reported. Water that arrives by canal from the Colorado River wasn’t mentioned in the regulations, it was noted. Because water districts classify the untreated water from the Colorado River as “non-potable,” it appears not to fall under the measures, The Desert Sun reported
Unless the state specifies that canal water from the Colorado River will be subject to the drought measures, Engel said, “we’re going to assume that it does not apply under these rules.”
California has more than 800 golf courses, and state officials say that about two-thirds of them use potable water, The Desert Sun reported
In the Coachella Valley, managers of golf courses last year announced a goal of voluntarily cutting water use by 10 percent from 2010 levels. Because their water use has risen a bit since 2010, reaching that goal would actually require a reduction of about 17 percent, The Desert Sun reported.
More aggressive cuts of 25 percent would likely require managers of country clubs to let the grass go brown in some areas around the edges of their courses, The Desert Sun reported. Meeting that goal could also require golf courses to invest more heavily in converting turf to desert landscaping.
Many of the golf courses in the Coachella Valley were designed decades ago and have more than 100 acres of grass, The Desert Sun noted—much more than in areas such as Phoenix and Las Vegas, where tighter rules have led to the construction of courses with about 50 acres of turf or less.
The high costs of taking out grass and replacing it with desert plants have inhibited many golf courses from making those changes, particularly as their budgets have been squeezed by a trend of shrinking membership, The Desert Sun reported. This year, the CVWD began offering cash rebates to encourage golf courses to remove grass.
If the state adopts the measures as proposed, some golf courses likely would be pressed to make those changes more quickly, The Desert Sun reported As the regulations take shape, Kessler said, “we have a whole number of questions we’re going to ask.”
With the drought in its fourth year, state officials said they’re looking to make sure that water-saving measures are in place by the summer, when Californians typically use the largest quantities outdoors, The Desert Sun reported
“We’re in a drought like we’ve not seen before, just as Australia found themselves in the last decade. So all Californians need to step up more and prepare as if it won’t rain or snow much next year either, because we know that we don’t know when it will end,” said Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board. Advice received from Australia has been “to conserve early, to avoid harsher and more expensive measures later on,” she added. “It’s just the prudent thing to do. It is better to be safer than sorrier in the face of that uncertainty.”
The state water board will have the authority to issue fines against water suppliers that don’t meet their targets. But Marcus emphasized that the board aims to work with local agencies to help them reach their goals through changing their rates and other strategies.
“The point here is to get conservation, not fines. Fines are a tool,” Marcus said. “It is definitely achievable. We can do this.”