Sprouted of Drought: The Golf Industry’s “Water Task Forces” Take the Lead in Conservation and Wise Environmental Stewardship
Amid the driest recorded conditions in California history, the SoCal golf industry, the SCGA and regional water agencies have proactively pooled together to tackle the state’s burgeoning issues of water shortages. Known as golf’s “Water Conservation Task Forces,” regulators and the regulated have coalesced with increasing cooperation at the forefront of California’s environmental stewardship while concurrently maintaining an interest in golf’s financial future.
With equal parts anchoring, vision and orchestration, the SCGA’s Governmental Affairs Dept. banded together a din of debate to create a unified voice which streams across SoCal’s water dialogue.
Brought together by the SCGA, the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and representatives of the game’s other governing bodies responded to water use ordinances that resulted from the 2009 drought and created watering restrictions unworkable (if not contentious) to the 35 courses under LADWP’s watch. Meeting with an open dialogue, ongoing workshops and coordinated training sessions ensued, aimed at matching ordinances with a more flexible construct amenable to golf’s business practices.
And the resulting scorecard is going low.
“What resulted was a joint effort to improve conservation and water savings we could see through a coordinated effort, and we started down a path of what we call the ‘alternative means of compliance,'” explains Penny Falcon, Water Conservation Policy, Legislation, and Grants Manager for LADWP and a key member of the L.A.’s Golf Industry Water Conservation Task Force.
“It went from a strong disagreement to what we were doing with our ordinance, to an extremely cooperative exchange and partnership with coming up with a flexible, but necessary, means to use water even more wisely than they were already doing,” Falcon adds. “And that basically allows professionals and experts in their field – especially knowing the exact needs of their course and different types of turf areas – knowing those needs and being able to meet those with reducing water. And they’ve done an excellent job in going above and beyond doing what we’ve asked them do to.”
Given the flexibility to control their own watering times and dates, the courses accepted the onus of reducing water usage by a mandated 20 percent. The result? Evidencing Falcon’s praise, L.A.’s courses in question have displayed water use reductions of roughly 23 percent.
In conjunction with reduced water usage programs, the 35 courses were also presented the incentive of cash rebates for turf removal programs, receiving $1/per sq. foot removed from their grounds. To date, six courses in LADWP’s service area have removed turf considered non-essential to play, with the largest projects taking place at Porter Valley Country Club in Northridge (27 acres) and Braemar Country Club in Tarzana (24 acres).
Drop-by-drop, the river of knowledge and results is flowing across the state. Recognizing L.A.’s success, the City of San Diego was approached by the SCGA to form their own Task Force in 2012.
“In San Diego, we implemented mandatory water use restriction from 2009-2011,” explains Luis Generoso, Water Resources Manager for the City of San Diego and a lead member of his region’s Task Force. “And one of the things we encountered as an issue was trying to implement water use restrictions on ‘large landscapes’; it was hard for them to stick to times of day and day of week water they were allowed. So we found ourselves, oftentimes, granting exemptions or what we call ‘variances’ from the regulations.”
Said exemptions in San Diego are mirroring the flexibility founded in L.A. With golf courses falling under the “large landscape” designation in the state’s second-largest city, San Diego is finding further fruits of labor by working with an open dialogue.
“It’s a big step coming from the golf industry,” Generoso says. “For one, it’s not me trying to tell them, ‘We need to step-up our conservation.’ It’s actually coming from them. And this program will allow for increased conversation should there be a need for it. So, for example, if the mayor calls for a 10 percent reduction six months from now . . . there’s no hard convincing.”
In working with golf industry professionals, Generoso has fast recognized that the game’s stewards possess the acumen, knowledge and technology which can spread further conservation efforts across his non-golf responsibilities.
“Golf course superintendents have access to some of the better tools in terms of managing water consumption,” says Generoso. “So, actually, we might be able to learn from these professionals and relate that to other landscape professionals outside the golf industry; to try and adapt their knowledge to other types of commercial landscapes, and other industries or jurisdictions.”
In late 2013, the current of SCGA-led initiative tided inland with the announcement of the Coachella Valley Golf Industry Water Conservation Task Force. Home to 124 golf courses which collectively account for nearly 24 percent of the area’s water use, the forming of SoCal’s newest Task Force came on the heels of an eye-popping series of “Aquifer at Risk” reports from The Desert Sun earlier in the year, which revealed the following (and alarming) statistics:
“ . . . analysis of water agencies’ records for 346 wells determined that the average measurements of water levels in the wells went from about 104 feet below ground in 1970 to 159 feet below ground this year, reflecting an average decline of 55 feet.”
Currently, 50 Coachella Valley courses source water from either a mix of Colorado River water and non-potable sources or receive water directly from the river via canal. With golf industry professionals working in concert with The Coachella Valley Water District (the valley’s largest water agency), the Palm Springs region’s version of Task Forces will aim to connect more courses to Colorado River water and recycled water. The new Force will also work to meet or exceed an agreed-upon 10 percent reduction in water consumption, as stated by terms of the Coachella Valley Water Management plan, authored in 2010.
With the news early this year that a Golf Water Task Force had been created in the California Capitol, the entire state may soon be riding the wave of momentum started in Southern California.
Which begs the question: Will the golfer see, sense or feel the impact of the budding Task Forces? Indeed.
Over time, players should anticipate myriad courses returning to the game’s roots, with the firmer (i.e., less watered and lush) fairways of “On the ground” golf eventually displacing the common expectation of “In the air” golf.
Financially, experts foresee the cost of water eventually doubling, which means the proactive, conservational vision of the Task Forces is working to keep daily-rate green fees and member dues in check before a cost explosion.
“The golf industry really has an understanding of water efficiency,” Falcon says. “And they need to because it’s their bottom profit margin.”
Aesthetically, while L.A.’s ordinances allow for enhanced watering of greens and tee boxes to maintain high-quality conditions on a given course’s most sensitive (and scrutinized) areas, there’s little doubt that the ornamental routings of respective courses will look markedly different a decade from now.
“What you might see at some of the courses are those rough areas, or extreme rough, or close to being out of bounds – you might see more California-friendly, California-native plantings,” says Falcon. “The idea is that it will bring a little more dimension to the course, so you won’t just see grass and trees. You could see some pop of color and some different heights of bushes with the different plantings.”
Just as each round of golf is a day reborn of opportunity, every shot is ultimately subject to elements unknown. As the sun ascends daily to light play of the game’s stage, players need know that the Task Forces are employing cooperation to ensure the viability of golf’s financial and environmental future.