The Era of Recycled Water May Be Drawing to a Close
One-third of California’s golf courses have access to recycled water. Another significant number have access to raw untreated water from the Colorado River — roughly six percent. And all of them are in one place, the Coachella Valley. A number use groundwater, many exclusively, others to supplement alternative supplies. That still leaves more than half of California’s golf courses dependent upon potable supplies for their irrigation.
For a long time the industry has been able to rebut environmentalists who decry the use of drinking water to irrigate golf courses by stating the following: We agree with you, which is why we promote at every turn gaining access to a recycled supply, and while it may take some time, close to 100 percent of the state’s golf courses will be irrigating with something other than “drinking water” eventually. The arc of this story may be long, but it is fast bending toward universal non-potable reuse.
For almost as long, the industry’s Cassandras have been warning that well before the “story” plays out, potable reuse promises to crowd out the golf industry’s access to recycled water, shutting down long-planned extensions of purple pipe and diverting recycled deliveries upon expiration of agreements. And for almost as long as that, the golf industry has been ignoring its Cassandras — or perhaps not so much ignoring as assuming that potable reuse was much further in the future than they were suggesting.
Well, the only thing these prophets may have gotten wrong was just how rapidly the era of potable reuse would be upon us.
The Las Virgenes Water District (Calabasas), which has been supplying nearby Calleguas Water District in Ventura County and a number of its golf courses (Sherwood CC, North Ranch CC and Westlake Village GC) with recycled water for years and was planning to do the same for Los Angeles Water & Power just to its east, has withdrawn from the “purple pipe” business in favor of a massive potable reuse program.
Los Angeles Water & Power has resolved to do the same in the San Fernando Valley by diverting extant flows to a massive Northeast Valley replenishment plan made possible by the monies provided by the recent state water bond. Longstanding plans to extend the Los Angeles-Glendale recycled source to Pasadena’s golf courses and parks have been placed on indefinite hold.
East Bay Municipal Utilities District in the San Francisco Bay Area, which services scores of golf courses, is suspending all recycled activity pending the completion of a new strategic plan sure to contain a significant potable reuse component. Orange County, which constructed the first potable reuse processing facility in the state, is going to be using state water bond money to significantly expand that facility’s reach, which will likely stifle future recycled activity.
Where aquifers make replenishment a viable strategy for increasing local domestic supply and surpluses accomplish the same end through more direct means, we are starting to see a move away from the construction of expensive purple pipe recycled conveyances in favor of various schemes of potable reuse — what used to be called “toilet to tap.” This poses a big challenge to a golf industry reliant upon supplies other than potable for political survival. As the population grows, the costs rise, the climate warms and droughts ensue, golf is going to find itself scrambling in a morass of competing interests for that precious potable water, most of which can lay higher public claim to it.
Now would be the time to consider the upshot of all of this — not just for those golf courses that had hoped to gain recycled access at some future time, but for those golf courses whose recycled contracts will be coming up for renewal. It behooves the former class of golf courses to begin contemplating what comes next in an environment sure to become increasingly hostile to “watering golf courses with drinking water.” It behooves the latter class to approach their water suppliers with entreaties to extend extant contracts before they come due.
And it behooves all of us to pay closer heed to those who preach the need to think in blocks of time longer than the next quarter.