8 Aug 2015

California won't enforce water rules for golf courses

Golf courses are supposed to be doing their part to save water. Gov. Jerry Brown’s mandatory water restrictions require golf courses that pump groundwater from their own wells to limit watering to two days per week, or to reduce their consumption by 25 percent.

Ordinary Californians have stepped up: Homes and businesses cut their water use 27 percent in June, and the state’s largest cities all met their targets. Many golf courses are taking the drought seriously as well, as evidenced by the brown grass and desert landscaping that have become increasingly common at Coachella Valley golf courses.

But are most golf courses following the rules?

It’s an impossible question to answer. With uneven transparency from the golf industry and no enforcement from the state, water use at many golf courses remains shrouded in mystery, a Desert Sun investigation has found.

Over the past two weeks, The Desert Sun contacted more than 50 Coachella Valley golf facilities covered by the new water rules in an effort to find out whether and how they’re complying. Representatives for more than three-fifths of those facilities either didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment or declined to be interviewed.

That silence underscores the difficulty of knowing whether golf courses with their own wells are doing their part to save water. State officials told The Desert Sun they’re unlikely to enforce the restrictions on those golf courses, or even to request data on how much water they’re saving.

“It would be easy enough to demand that all water users provide basic information about how much water they’re using and where that water comes from,” said Peter Gleick, president of the Oakland-based Pacific Institute. “Collecting this kind of basic information is the job of the state, and local water agencies. It shouldn’t fall on the media or the public to try and dig this information out.”
Shrouded in mystery

Brown’s statewide water restrictions, which took effect June 1, require California homes and businesses to cut their water use 25 percent from June 2015 to February 2016, relative to the same period two years ago.

Golf courses have two options, as do other commercial, industrial and institutional properties that don’t get their water from one of the state’s 400-plus water agencies. They can either limit outdoor irrigation with potable water to two days per week, or reduce potable water consumption by 25 percent from June to February.

Of the 53 golf facilities contacted by The Desert Sun, 20 described the steps they’re taking to cut back by 25 percent. None chose the water-two-days-per-week option, which golf experts say would kill grass.

It’s likely that some of the other 33 golf facilities are trying to follow the rules, despite their silence. Seven of them are getting rebates from the Coachella Valley Water District to tear out grass.


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