How California golf courses are adapting to new water restrictions

Water restrictions in the West are becoming commonplace as the mega-drought intensifies and reservoir levels continue to drop, including at recreational facilities that require large amounts of irrigation.

In Southern California, golf courses are changing the way they tend to green in the wake of new state mandates and predictions that climate change will cause drought conditions to persist.

Last month, California Governor Gavin Newsom implored the state’s largest water providers to fight drought and better engage customers to ensure all residents do their part to save water. ‘water. But California law distinguishes between ornamental and functional turf, with parks, sports fields, cemeteries and golf courses falling under the functional turf category, allowing them to practice “alternative means” of complying with rules and restrictions. , Craig Kessler, director of public affairs for the Southern California Golf Association, told ABC News. Functional turf is responsible for about 9% of the state’s water use, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

Golf courses are given water budgets, based on state codes, and can change the day of the week or time of week that they irrigate grass, Kessler said.

Also, while varying degrees of drought generally determine household water budgets, golf courses fall outside of these ordinances. For example, in the Los Angeles Department of Water and Electricity’s service area, home to nearly three dozen golf courses, a Tier 3 Drought Ordinance aims to reduce consumption by 30 percent. household water supplies, Kessler said. However, the golf industry is operating “permanently” under a level 2 drought, which has resulted in approximately 45% less water use since 2009, and is not required to go up a level. with the rest of the service area.

In Pasadena Water and Power’s service area, golf courses must either reduce their water usage by 15% or find other ways to make up that difference, said Jeffrey Kightlinger, the company’s acting chief executive. utilities, at the ABC station in Los Angeles. KABC.

Los Angeles City Golf was waiting for an agreement with the Department of Water and Energy on the percentage of water reduction it would face, said Rick Reinschmidt, acting golf manager for the city’s 12 courses. Los Angeles, to ABC News.

Eight of the city’s yards are irrigated with recycled water, which does not fall under state ordinances, but they are irrigating at a minimum reduction of 25% from normal routine, Reinschmidt said.

“But we don’t exempt ourselves,” he said. “We are reducing the same as if we were not irrigating with recycled water.”

Modern “extraordinarily efficient” irrigation systems are being installed on the ranges, as opposed to automatic sprinklers, to help save money, Kessler said. But “at times like these,” when water shortages are such a concern, various other contingency plans are in place to keep classes going to “maintain some semblance of playable conditions,” Kessler said.

Yards have begun to replace turf with warm season grasses, which require much less water, and have also eliminated overseeding, except in the desert where it is necessary, as it is extremely water consuming, said Kessler. The courts are also investing in redesigning irrigation systems to no longer cover areas where a substantial amount of turf has been removed, Kessler said.

Reinschmidt said landscape officials at LA City Golf had “killed turf everywhere” and turned off sprinkler heads “everywhere that aren’t in play.” They also prioritized identifying and repairing leaks to further limit water waste, Reinschmidt said.

Millions took to golf as cabin fever created by the pandemic forced people to recreate outdoors, Kessler said. But, the golf community “has been down this road before” and doesn’t seem to care about the occasional course browning, he said.

“Golfers are very understanding,” Kessler said. “They recognize that it won’t be optimal at a time like this.”

The only sightings Reinschmidt has witnessed are comparisons between the green of the golf courses and the surrounding vegetation, which are almost all dry and brown, he said.

But with advanced agronomic practices, golfers might be surprised to see course conditions improve despite the worsening drought, Brandon Fox, PGA golf manager for Rose Bowl Stadium, told KABC.

For now, the browning is likely to continue, Fox said.

“Brown is the new green,” Fox said. “We said that a few years ago.”

The golf community is also prepared for additional contingency plans that may be put in place should water restrictions begin to creep into Levels 4 or 5, such as increased water usage recycled, Kessler said, adding that much of Southern California has accepted a future of “permanent drought.”

“But it’s in the hands of Mother Nature,” he said. “It’s beyond our ability to control.”

Michael C. Ford