Water agency to set goals for golf courses to stop using groundwater

October 8th, 2013 | by Ian James | Comments

PALM DESERT In an attempt to alleviate pressures on an overused aquifer, the Coachella Valley’s largest water district plans to set more specific goals and establish a timetable for connecting golf courses to pipes carrying recycled water and water from the Colorado River.

A majority of the 124 golf courses in the Coachella Valley pump groundwater from wells, and those large withdrawals have contributed to long-term declines in groundwater levels.

Peter Nelson, a member of the Coachella Valley Water District board, proposed the idea of setting targets for getting golf courses off groundwater at a meeting on Tuesday. He said he wants the agency’s staff to prepare a schedule of target dates for more golf courses to be connected to pipes carrying treated sewage or water from the Colorado River.

“I think it gives a greater sense of urgency and accountability,” Nelson said. “It will bring it up to a level of where it needs to be.”

The water district’s board agreed last month to accelerate its efforts to wean golf courses from groundwater. Board members took the stance following a series of articles in which The Desert Sun documented significant declines in groundwater levels despite efforts to replenish the aquifer using imported water from the Colorado River.

The water agency in 2009 finished building the Mid-Valley Pipeline, which brings Colorado River water from a canal in Indio to a sewage treatment plant in Palm Desert. There, the river water is mixed with treated water from the sewage plant, and the non-potable water flows through pipes to golf courses.

Since 2009, though, the water district has connected only one new course. Plans to hook up more courses have stalled. A total of 22 golf courses now use non-potable water, including recycled water and Colorado River water. Twenty-eight other courses draw Colorado River water directly from a canal. The rest depend on groundwater.

“We need to hook up as many as we can, as quickly as we can,” board member Deborah Livesay said at the meeting.

Other members of the board agreed and called for their staff to prepare a monthly report.

“If we have those target dates with goals and objectives, I think we’ll move quicker to our goals,” Nelson said.

Nelson said that while the effort will take years, it’s important to get going. “If we can have a goal of three courses a year, over the next 10 years, I think we’d make great headway.”

Managers of golf courses have expressed willingness to cooperate in moving toward alternative water sources.

Craig Kessler, director of governmental affairs for the Southern California Golf Association, pointed out that golf courses have large financial incentives to reduce their water bills by reducing water consumption, and have made progress by using new irrigation technologies and other methods.

“Throughout Southern California, golf courses are looking at turf removal,” Kessler said in a telephone interview. “And they’re looking at a whole host of things that are related to reducing the footprint of water application.”

The Coachella Valley has one of the highest concentrations of golf courses in the nation, and its economy has grown alongside the golf business.

The fact that the valley’s golf courses use a great deal of water is driven primarily by their numbers and their dominance in the economy, Kessler said.

“As a general proposition, golf courses want to be hooked up to non-potable sources because they recognize that in the very long run, at some point that may be not only the most but perhaps the only reliable source,” Kessler said, citing growing pressures on water supplies in the West.

Kessler said he and others in the golf industry are concerned about the long-term drawing down of the aquifer in the Coachella Valley, and have had regular dialogue with the water district about ways to reduce water use.

“The fate of the golf industry and everyone else in the Coachella Valley is based upon actually working together on what really is a commonly held goal of making the Coachella Valley, and all of its industries upon which people depend, sustainable over time,” Kessler said.

“Everyone, everything is dependent upon the health long-term of that aquifer.”

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