Opinion: Golf courses are looking to Gov. Doug Ducey to help them fight proposed groundwater cuts. It would be a lot more helpful if he helped them fund projects to use less water.
State water regulators want golf courses that rely on groundwater in urban areas to take a relatively modest 3% cut in their water allotments in 2025.
The Arizona Department of Water Resources says the cuts are necessary, particularly because Colorado River shortages will put even more pressure on our finite groundwater supply.
But it’s not an across the board cut. Those with smaller allotments and turf areas could be in line for more water, while those with larger allotments and turf areas generally could see larger cuts – up to 20% or more.
That has some courses crying foul. They say the state water department is asking too much of an industry that has already done a lot to use water more efficiently.
Some say the department’s plan could put them out of business. They even recruited Gov. Doug Ducey to speak at an event in April, where he touted the economic impact that golf has on the state.
The golf industry is critical to growing Arizona’s economy, job opportunities and tourism. Today, I’m proud to help kick off the Arizona Alliance of Golf and ensure our state remains the premier golf destination. @GrayhawkGolf pic.twitter.com/FKhjwVXCEt
— Doug Ducey (@dougducey) April 28, 2021
Not all courses will survive. Those that do must cut
Golf is probably still overbuilt in Arizona. A building boom occurred in the mid-1980s until the early 2000s. Just about every new master planned community had its own course.
But the game has been falling in popularity for years. And while the pandemic has drawn a lot more people to golf, as folks looked for things to do outside and nearby, profit margins remain thin at a lot of courses.
That doesn’t leave a lot of cash to make additional improvements that could save more water – particularly on older courses that have a lot of turf to maintain. Some courses have already closed. Others are on their last legs.
Clearly, the market still has some shaking out to do – and that’s not necessarily courses’ fault.
The department says it has no intent of putting courses out of business and has compromised on some points, such as the level of efficiency it expects from courses.
But it remains resolute that they need to use less water overall, and understandably so. We all need to conserve.
Ducey could help courses adjust to this reality
Arizona has made some effort to help other sectors adjust to this new reality. The Drought Contingency Plan helps mitigate the impact of water cuts, to varying extents, on cities and farmers as Colorado River supplies shrink.
That’s where Gov. Ducey could step in to help resolve this feud.
He could create a best management practices committee like the one he revived for farmers after they protested proposed changes to a popular irrigation program. Farmers proposed some stipulations that would require more of them, as a show of good faith.
What resulted was a far more realistic program that both sides could live with, plus a working relationship to do more in the future.
Even better, Ducey could ask golf courses to agree to cuts and then work to provide a one-time step down into this new reality – perhaps by securing grants or loans to remove additional turf and replace it with drought-tolerant landscaping or to extend reclaimed water to courses, a la the system Scottsdale created for 23 courses to keep them off groundwater.
Digging in helps no one in this debate
But digging in helps no one.
There already is a public perception that using water for recreation is wasteful. Courses in places like California – which forces cuts on users during state-declared droughts – continue to raise the bar on turf removal and other conservation efforts not just to withstand those cuts, but also to shore up their image with players and the wider community.
Because they know that is key in a hotter, drier place that also must attract a new generation of golfers to survive.
It’s no different in Arizona.
Courses are contending with public perception as much as they are the state. It’s in their interest to trim water use – even if they’ve already done a lot – and shift the debate toward finding funding to help them make these cuts and more.
If you love this content (or love to hate it – hey, I won’t judge), why not subscribe to get more?