golf industry must do more to meet ongoing drought
Even in the midst of a generally cool and wet California winter, Coachella Valley Water District officials have a blunt message for the desert golf course industry: Take the ongoing drought seriously, because changes could come in the availability of water sooner rather than later.
“We wanted to give the picture as we know it today, where the game is for our water resources,” said Dr. Robert Cheng, assistant general manager for CVWD and one of the keynote speakers at a top-grossing golf and water summit. than 150 golf industry officials Wednesday at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage. “We hope to create a picture that is accurate, dire, that there is a need for additional action by the golf industry to help them maintain sustainability in this current situation.”
Golf course superintendents and general managers from across the desert heard presentations on advances in drought-tolerant grasses and technological advances that can help conserve water at the 120 desert courses. But Cheng and Pete Nelson, a CVWD director, made the most important presentation on the state of the Colorado Basin and how water from the Colorado River can no longer be counted on as a long-term solution to irrigation needs for golf courses or desert agriculture.
“The facts on the ground in the desert have never created any sense of urgency,” said Craig Kessler, director of public affairs for the Southern California Golf Association and head of the Coachella Valley Golf and Water Task Force. “But the important point in today’s presentation is that the facts on the ground now create a sense of urgency even in the Coachella Valley golf community precisely because it is the Colorado River watershed that needs to be addressed.”
Eighteen golf courses served by CVWD use strictly river water for irrigation, while more than 30 others use a mix of river water, recycled water and groundwater pumped from the aquifer beneath the desert. A desert course can use up to 1 million gallons of water per day in the heat of summer, less in the colder winter months. The river’s water has been an inconsistent water source, with Cheng saying the district has received up to 70 percent of its contracted allocation in some years since the mid-2010s, but only five percent of that allocation in each of the three last years.
The story continues
“This valley has survived the drought. That was the whole point I mentioned in 2014 (a drought year with only 5 percent sharing). I mean, something happened and we still survived,” Cheng said. “I think what the story is now, as we’re starting January 2023, is a different world. I think the focus and intensity of the conversation about the drought in 23 of drought is real.”
Nelson told the gathering how water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead on the Colorado River continue to drop. Even with snowpack in the Colorado Basin at 126 percent, Nelson said that will provide only slightly more water than is needed for an average year, not enough to erase two decades of drought in the basin that supplies water to seven states. and Mexico.
“That 7 million acre-feet of water (in the snowpack this year) doesn’t meet the demand of 9 million acre-feet in the lower basin,” Nelson said. So this is Arizona, that’s California, and that’s southern Nevada. And interestingly enough, that’s where all the golf courses are, right?
The Mesquite Golf and Country Club in Palm Springs, Jan. 31, 2020. (Photo by Jay Calderone/Palm Springs Desert Sun)
Federal mandates coming?
Nelson is part of negotiations trying to reach a consensus by the end of the month on a framework to keep the lakes above the levels needed to generate electricity and provide water for the Colorado Basin. He told the crowd Wednesday that he was not sure a deal could be reached by Jan. 31, which would allow the United States Bureau of Reconstruction to come up with its plan.
“Will the bureau come out with its own framework? Absolutely,” Nelson said. “They’re going to look at things like reasonable and beneficial use of water. In government terms, that’s a 417 action. So they look at the use of water and see if it’s reasonable and beneficial useful. Your and my view of what is reasonable and useful is probably different from theirs.”
Chris Bien, golf course superintendent at Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert and president of the Hi-Lo Desert Superintendents Association of Golf Courses, said Wednesday’s turnout showed golf facilities are taking water conservation seriously.
“We talk about it more than we used to and having so many people in the room to sit there for two and a half hours and hear everybody’s thoughts, well, everybody came because they wanted to hear about it,” Bien said. “So absolutely we’re taking it a lot more seriously.”
Tim Putnam, director of agronomy at La Quinta Country Club, said he attended the meeting to hear about the upcoming Colorado River water restriction. Putnam said his club can move quickly on some conservation projects.
“We have a ground reduction design ready to go. That’s why we asked the question. If we implement this immediately, will we get credit for it,” Putnam said of the impending mandates for reductions. “If they stick to the water budget, you have a water budget based on the acreage in your facility, you have to reduce the amount of that budget, not just say 20 percent when you’re already irrigating super efficiently. .”
Another concern for superintendents and general managers was funding such a project. The clubs estimate it costs between $15,000 and $20,000 to pull up an acre of turf and replace it with drought-tolerant plants and irrigation, and the return on that investment is long-term. Some new funding for such projects may be on the way through the federal Inflation Reduction Act passed last August. Some of the money from that bill is set aside to finance water conservation projects. Cheng told the crowds that by May, CVWD will be ready to help golf courses apply for those funds.
“The message we hope (golf officials) take to heart is that we want the golf course industry to survive,” Cheng said, noting that golf employs about 8,000 people in the desert and generates $700 million in revenue. . “We understand its importance. Right now, we have a golden opportunity to access some funding from the federal government to help you achieve some of these conservation measures.
“There’s confusion about how to sell to a membership or a municipality,” Bien said. “You want to be able to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this and we’re going to pay for it, or part of it, or we’re going to get funding.’ And we don’t know that we’re actually going to achieve that, and it’s hard to say. So I think we’re all trying to do other (conservation acts) besides that.”
Bien added that the message to the golf industry at the summit was clear.
“It was informative. We have a glimpse of what the future may hold and we need to do better as an industry as a whole,” Bien said.
Kessler added that the desert is still in better condition for golf courses than other areas of Southern California.
“Emergency by desert standards is part of the coast (Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties), but as you heard from Peter Nelson’s presentations, if you look at the levels of these two lakes, it just keeps going down even as we have years wet,” Kessler said.
Where to golf in the California desert: Palm Springs, La Quinta, PGA West
La Quinta Resort
The story originally appeared on GolfWeek