PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — What a unique place we live here in Phoenix, one of the fastest growing cities, located right in the middle of a desert. Given that we are in a drought, some might wonder how we have so many beautiful green golf courses when water is scarce.
We spoke to Cynthia Campbell, Water Resources Advisor for the City of Phoenix. She says they’ve been watching the Colorado River shrink for years, and this year’s water outages in parts of Arizona aren’t a huge surprise.
“I don’t think anyone expected the decline to go as fast as it did,” Campbell said. “We’ve really had to take some pretty extraordinary steps as a region to try to adapt.” Mostly dry winters and a light snowpack in the Colorado Basin shrunk Lake Power and Lake Mead. As part of the drought contingency plan, water from the Colorado River was cut off in parts of Arizona starting last January.
“It will take many years to overthrow it. If the definition of overthrowing it is to bring it back to what it was, I’m not sure it will ever come back,” Campbell explained. “I think we’re also seeing the impacts of climate change.”
While Pinal County farmers have seen a major drop in their water supply with the recent cuts, there have been no cuts for Phoenix residents, parks or golf courses. Campbell says it’s because of the Central Arizona Project (CAP) contract, which supplies water from the Colorado River to Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties.
Is recycled water the solution?
Campbell points out that many golf courses wouldn’t use this water anyway. Instead, they use reclaimed water. The City of Scottsdale has a full wastewater campus, funded in part by the golf courses. It’s a partnership that pumps reclaimed water to 23 city yards, including the TPC.
“To me, this is proof that the industry is looking for ways to be more efficient and use fewer resources,” says Andy Staples, owner of Staples Golf Design. As an Arizona-based golf course architect, he not only builds new courses, but renovates courses across the country to become more water and energy efficient. “I will say that one of the major changes within the golf industry is that it is a topic of conversation across the country. So I will tell you that on all my courses someone has asked how to become more efficient with water usage,” Staples said. .
“I would say that one of the biggest misconceptions about the desert golf industry is that we’re just kind of willy-nilly watering golf courses to make them green to attract tourism, and it really isn’t,” he added. “These are highly qualified experts who are on the ground.”
Staples says courtyards not only need to use less water, but actually want to save on usage. “The best golf is in dry, firm, bouncy conditions, so we’re motivated to use less water because it really is better for the golfer.”
What else are cities and golf courses working on?
Construction materials also change when it comes to the courses, with underground recycled pipes and recycled rubber. Many new facilities have a smaller footprint, less bunkering, smaller greens, and far fewer water features in Arizona.
“It’s important to make sure the golf industry sticks around because we see some value in the game,” Staples says. “We want to make sure we’re compliant to be as efficient and sustainable as possible. And quite simply, it’s the right thing to do.”
Staples says there is still work to be done in the industry, especially with turf science. He says scientists are working hard to create grass that stays green all year round, which would mean less water and no overseeding.