Friday, January 16, 2009

A new series on dealing with water scarcity from ... Golfweek Magazine?

Sure I was a little skeptical when I first caught wind of this series (links to the remainder of the series at this link), but it's actually pretty good. Obviously it's not real in depth or tackling hard-hitting issues, but it does give a nice overview of how golf courses are trying to remain in operation during prolonged droughts affecting the southwest and southeast US - areas with major golf infrastructure as part of their economies.

They include discussions of how high tech golf courses are getting in managing their irrigation systems, research on new strains of grass that can be grown with low quality water in poor soils, even a trend toward painting courses green in winter rather than overseeding to keep green grass year round.

There are lots of people who dislike golf courses and their apparently profligate water use. I'm not a big fan myself. But the truth is, golf courses tend to make very efficient use of water because it is one of their most significant costs. They are also a pretty good use of water economically - what they contribute to local economies per unit of water used is pretty high among large water users. Also, they are often under political and regulatory pressure to conserve if they want to remain in business. And they are businesses - and saving water saves money.

Here in Arizona, most golf courses in the larger cities use effluent for irrigation - both because they have no other choice and because the effluent is often subsidized (as an enticement to get them to switch from groundwater). I'm pretty sure the only way to get a new golf course approved within an Active Management Area is by committing to effluent use for irrigation.

Even outside the AMAs, where use of groundwater is subject to very little regulation, the Arizona Corporation Commission has been trying to insist that new development not include golf courses until the development is large enough to provide sufficient effluent to water the course. It didn't work on the recent Pravada development near Kingman, which I previously posted on. But there are several new members on the Commission this year which may breathe some life into that policy.


Anonymous said...

I've heard that golf courses are being built only because the developer gets credit for re-using effluent, which results in higher consumptive use overall. Although, all the specifics escape me, the thrust of it is that by agreeing to use effluent to water a golf course the developer gets more water allocated up front and then effluent that would be recharged to the aquifer or available downstream is used consumptively on a golf course.

A water-right owner should be free to use her water as she sees fit and if that is a golf course (v. say a factory for making silicon wafers) so be it. Golf courses, unlike many water uses, help mitigate urban heat islands.

Chris Brooks said...

I have heard about developers adding golf courses to their developments so that they can make use of their effluent, but haven't heard about getting credits for doing so.
The critical issue is whether the development is located in an Active Management Area (AMA) or not. If in an AMA, the effluent has value because it can be recharged to earn credits that can be converted to additional groundwater pumping for that developer or someone else, by selling/leasing the credits. Use of the effluent to irrigate a golf course may earn the owner credits for incidental recharge (this assumes that a small portion of any water applied to the ground will recharge the aquifer). But all this only applies within an AMA. Outside of AMAs, the effluent is less valuable and often must be dealt with onsite because of limitations on dumping it into watercourses. This makes a golf course an attractive option for utilizing the effluent and adding value to the development.