Golf courses and public parks, with their acres and acres of thirsty grass, are heavy water users, and Southern California course operators and park officials say they were mandated to cut consumption since well before the governor’s office declared a drought emergency this year.
“Let me first say that the golf industry has been dealing with water issues, water conservation before this current drought,” said Craig Kessler, government affairs director for the Southern California Golf Association. “For example, in Los Angeles, the golf industry has been in 20 percent reductions since 2009 and has been meeting regularly with (the Department of) Water and Power.”
All of California is under the same burden. A 2009 law, SBX7-7, mandated that water usage up and down the state be reduced by 20 percent by 2020. For the people who manage golf courses and parklands, options to meet the law’s demands can be as high-tech as installing “smart” watering technology designed to prevent unneeded irrigation and as simple as removing grass to be replaced with drought-tolerant plants.
Another solution is to rely solely on recycled water. That’s what Long Beach has done at its city-owned courses, but the cost of tearing up public roads and installing purple pipes to carry recycled water is not always feasible.
Scott Bourgeois, director of maintenance operation for American Golf Corp., which manages Long Beach’s courses as well as dozens of others in California and other states, said the cost of developing the infrastructure to deliver recycled water can cost roughly $1 million per mile. American Golf is considering the possibility of switching Sunset Hills Country Club in Thousand Oaks to recycled water as early as 2016, but that’s not an option everywhere.
At Brookside Golf Club in Pasadena, where the cost of switching to recycled water is too high, Bourgeois said course managers are removing 22 acres of turf from the 180-acre course. The idea is to eliminate grass from fence lines or areas well away from fairways in order to minimize the impact on play.
“We’re very strategic on where we want to do this,” Bourgeois said.
The plan’s projected water savings are 70 acre-feet. An acre-foot is roughly the amount of water a suburban household in the Southwest consumes in a year.
Rolling Hills Country Club in Rolling Hills Estates, which can draw water from its own well, has also taken grass out of play. The course has replaced two and a half acres of grass with ground cover.
Water scarcity and the prospect of rising water costs means that golf course operators have to look at conservation as a business imperative, Kessler said, and course operators cannot assume they can pass along water costs to players.
“Water has been the centerpiece of the golf industry’s concerns for a long time, and the current situation exacerbates the situation a little bit,” Kessler said.
PARKS ALSO REMOVING GRASS
The Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation has similarly undertaken several projects in its attempt to reduce water usage, spokesman Andre Herndon said. That includes a turf removal tactic. For example, more than six acres of grass have been replaced with decomposed granite at El Cariso Community Regional Park in Sylmar, which has its own golf course.
The county has also installed “smart” water regulators to prevent sprinkler systems from watering some 24 parks when weather conditions do not require irrigation. Parks with the new systems installed include Hollywood Bowl, Whittier Narrows Recreation Area and Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area.
San Bernardino County Regional Parks is also considering adding such technology to its parks system, county spokeswoman Felicia Cardona said. Other water-saving measures in the Lower 48’s most sprawling county include the use of recycled water at Prado Regional Park and Cucamonga Guasti Regional Parks, respectively in Chino and Ontario. Parks officials are also embracing the concept of replacing grass with more drought-tolerant vegetation.
Those strategies are also being pursued for highway and roadside beautification.
For example, Long Beach spokeswoman Jane Grobaty pointed to the city’s planting of toyon shrubs along one city roadway specifically to reduce water needs. On a larger scale, Los Angeles area Caltrans spokeswoman Maria Raptis said the agency has orders to cut its water use by 50 percent.
That means no new vegetation for highway beautification projects, Raptis said. The agency is also planning on installing smart irrigation regulators along several stretches of area freeways.
“We’re not washing our cars, either,” Raptis said.