As with previous offers, clubs and courses in the Palm Springs, Calif. region are being offered a new round of $15,000 rebates for each acre of irrigated turf that is removed, with a cap of seven acres. “It is not about being in an emergency or reacting to the emergency,” said a water-district official in explaining the program’s continuation.
No one knows the exact date that the most recent drought in California began, The Desert Sun of Palm Springs, Calif., reported, but it ended on April 7, when Gov. Jerry Brown officially lifted the drought emergency for the state, after a winter that saw record rains, reservoirs filled to capacity and the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains well above historic averages.
In a coincidence of timing, The Desert Sun reported, the governor’s statement came just three days after the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) announced its third round of rebates for golf courses that are willing to replace thirsty turf for desert landscaping. Brown’s announcement doesn’t change the CVWD’s goal of water conservation in the desert, Katie Evans, conservation manager for the water district, told The Desert Sun.
“Here in the desert, we are working toward long-term sustainable water supplies,” Evans said. “It is not about being in an emergency or reacting to the emergency.”
The latest round of rebates mirrors the first two rounds, The Desert Sun reported, with CVWD offering golf facilities $15,000 for each acre of irrigated turf removed, with a cap of seven acres per facility. Some facilities, like Ironwood Country Club in Palm Desert, Calif. and Desert Princess Country Club in Cathedral City, Calif. have participated in both previous rebate offers.
In all, 16 desert golf facilities have removed 129.5 acres of turf under the rebate program, with an estimated water savings of 800 acre feet of water per year, The Desert Sun reported. And the CVWD says that’s enough water to serve 1,000 homes each year.
As the California drought dragged on, golf courses in the state became one of the main targets in the fight to conserve water. A golf course can use as much as 1 million gallons of water per day, a number that even golf course administrators admitted could and should be reduced, The Desert Sun reported.
The Coachella Valley Golf and Water Task Force and other industry officials have pledged a 10 percent reduction in golf course water usage by 2020 under the Coachella Valley Water Management Plan. As of the 2015-16 drought-emergency period, golf had reduced water usage by 8 percent, according to a Desert Sun analysis.
But golf courses also have to satisfy those who play the courses or live along the fairways, and who didn’t want to see dormant Bermuda grass in the winter or golf courses without green grass but plenty of sand dunes and native desert vegetation, the Desert Sun noted.
That’s one reason, Evans said, that the Golf and Water Task Force, which was established in 2014 with members from water districts, the Southern California Golf Association and the Hi-Lo Desert Golf Course Superintendents Association, added real estate representatives who could help the rest of the task force understand the resistance of some homeowners to conservation efforts at courses.
So far, six golf courses have signed up for the latest round of rebates, The Desert Sun reported—including Ironwood CC for a third time, in an effort to remove more than 30 acres of grass overall for a total of $420,000. Other courses already approved include Bermuda Dunes (Calif.) Country Club, The Lakes Country Club in Palm Desert, both the Palmer Private and the Weiskopf courses at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., and Thunderbird Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif. The plans for those six courses should take another 33 acres out of irrigation in the district, The Desert Sun reported
At Thunderbird CC, the timing worked out to get involved with the rebate program this year, The Desert Sun reported. “We started doing some desertscaping like 10 years ago [and] we’ve done about four acres all on our own,” said Roger Compton, the club’s golf course superintendent. “Last year, by the time we committed to doing more, it was too late to apply.”
The $15,000 per acre from the rebate program only covers about half of the short-term cost of taking out the acre of grass along the front of the 11th tee box at the course and replanting and irrigating the area with desert landscaping, Compton said. But the savings in water costs in the coming years will make up for the overall cost, he added.
“Plus, you are doing the right thing for the valley,” said Compton, who has worked at desert courses for more than 35 years. “If we can keep the aquifer charged, that’s good for the desert and good for everyone.”
Applications for the water district must include the total proposed project area for the conversion, both in turf or lake removal, proposals for the type of landscaping to be added and type of watering for the new landscape as well as an estimate for total water savings, The Desert Sun reported.
CVWD has a total of $1 million to be handed out in this round of rebates, so the district is still taking applications until the money runs out, The Desert Sun reported. The rebate money comes from a grant of $5.24 million from California Proposition 84 Integrated Regional Water Management Implementation. That money was awarded to the Coachella Valley Regional Water Management Group, which includes CVWD, Desert Water Agency, Indio Water Authority, Mission Springs Water District and Valley Sanitation District.
“Surely we would like to see more participation, but at the same time we understand that making a huge landscaping change at a golf course is different than taking grass out of your front yard,” Evans said.
Knowing that more money is available for the summer might cause him to go back to Thunderbird’s Board to propose other turf-removal projects, Compton said.
Evans believes the rebate program and what it takes to apply are better-known now than when the program started, The Desert Sun reported. “That’s been helped by us working with the golf and water task force and the Hi-Lo Association, getting the word out on what this is and what we can do with the money,” she said.