By: Larry Bohannan
Imagine a day when more than 90 golf courses in the Coachella Valley will be on non-potable water, either canal water from the Colorado River or recycled water. Imagine none of those golf courses using water from the desert’s aquifer, leaving that water strictly for domestic use.
That possibility is not a dream, according to John Powell, board president of the Coachella Valley Water District. It is, in fact, a long-term goal, Powell said Monday at the Coachella Valley Golf Industry Summit at PGA West. The summit, conducted by the CareerBuilder Challenge and other golf-related organizations, was held at PGA West on the first day of the PGA Tour event.
“Currently, there are 53 golf courses using what we call non-potable water, and that’s either water that is imported Colorado River water or recycled, reclaimed waste water, or a combination of both,” Powell told the full house of about 250 attendees. “With the 53 courses currently using that water, including the ones here, we are looking to add another 43. So that would get us up to 96 golf courses in the valley over the next several years on either import or recycled water or a combination of both.”
Powell spoke during one of three panel discussions at the summit. And while the panels on the economic impact of golf in the desert and what is right with golf these days held messages that need to be heard, it was the panel on water use and management that was perhaps the most newsworthy and pressing in a state hoping that El Niño will end a three-year drought.
Golf courses across the state, and perhaps in particular in the golf-rich Coachella Valley, have been the focus of criticism during the drought as water became an issue throughout the state. Part of the purpose of the summit and the water panel Monday was to try to get the word out that golf courses in the desert are trying to do their part.
Powell said 18 golf courses in the CVWD district have undergone turf removal in the last year or so. And, as Stu Rowland of Rancho La Quinta Country Club pointed out, that was without the large financial incentives that were available to courses in areas like Phoenix and Las Vegas. Desert courses, Rowland said, had to share the cost of turf removal.
Pat Gross, west region director of the United States Golf Association green section, reinforced that the USGA believes water is a more direct threat to golf than the overall economic state of the country. But he added that while programs like turf removal save water, just how much water is being saved and at what cost can’t truly be determined yet.
Could a wet winter, and El Niño winter with the promise of drought relief ease the demands on desert golf courses for conservation? Powell said that’s not likely.
“What fits us is our water management plan. And we are really measuring our success against that,” Powell said. “Are we sustainable in this valley? We have unique characteristics that nobody else in the state of California has.”
So just because snow is continuing to fall in Northern California, that doesn’t mean that desert golf courses are going to re-plant grass or double their watering times. In fact, it’s more likely that even as the snow falls, golf courses in the desert will continue to search for ways to cut down on their water use and to change the kind of water they use rather than moving back to what they were doing five or 10 years ago. That’s likely the new reality of the drought.