The Coachella Valley Golf & Water Task Force is about to celebrate its one-year anniversary. It was a year in which we learned some things, accomplished some things, and established a solid foundation for achieving the goal that prompted the golf community and the Coachella Valley Water District to create this Task Force: Making sure that golf reduces its water footprint to the extent necessary to bring it into alignment with the Coachella Valley Water Management Plan.
The first thing we learned is that what the Coachella Valley Water Management Plan refers to as a 10 percent reduction in water consumption is really a 17 percent reduction from normative use. The “Plan” uses an artificial baseline methodology that understates the reduction. Based upon blending various different 5-year averages taken with any one year as the starting point yields a number that oscillates just above and just below 17 percent. The challenge is greater than we had anticipated and greater than has been reported. But we intend to meet it nonetheless.
The second thing we learned is that there are indeed many aquifers in the state of California that are genuinely “at risk.” Aquifers in the Central Valley, San Luis Obispo County, and Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley come immediately to mind. But the rich one under our Coachella Valley is not among them, according to the experts we consulted. As long as all parties, including the golf community, meet their goals under the Coachella Valley Water Management Plan, today’s mild overdraft will be replaced by mild replenishment by 2021. A cause for vigilance, yes; a cause for alarm, no.
The third thing we learned is counterintuitive. Whereas our coastal brethren in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego Counties are impelled to conserve by a combination of carrots and sticks, otherwise known as generous turf rebate programs and high water prices, we here in the desert were confronted one year ago with zero golf course turf rebate programs and comparatively low water prices. With CVWD’s recent announcement of its first ever golf course turf removal incentive, we have taken the first step in creating our own version of a “carrot.” As for those low prices, that’s something dictated by California law. CVWD is legally precluded from charging more for water than it costs the District to purchase, provide, replenish and deliver.
Among the things we accomplished in our first year were a small reduction in consumption over the previous year, the turf rebate program, the connection of more courses to nonpotable sources, the presentation of a series of CVWD/golf community joint educational meetings, and the amassing of the data necessary to enable the golf community to develop a credible strategy for meeting the reduction goal by 2020. Remember, the golf community is no more able to secure private usage data from CVWD than is any other party — another complicating factor dictated by state law.
To those cynics who might suggest that we learned more than we accomplished, we would say that the hardest step in any ambitious effort is the first one. We’ve taken that first step and in the process begun to change the culture and expectations of the Valley golf community. The rest won’t be easy, but it should come easier — and with any luck a little faster, too.
Stu Rowland is director of golf course operations for Rancho La Quinta Country Club and immediate past president of the Hi-Lo Chapter of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Craig Kessler is director of governmental affairs for the Southern California Golf Association. Email him at email@example.com
Both are members of the CVWD Golf Industry Water Conservation Task Force.