SCGA Public Affairs


Monday, April 22, 2024

Charles Dickens’ famous opening of “A Tale of Two Cities” comes to mind as a good descriptor of where California’s water situation and golf’s place in it stands after back-to-back record precipitation years:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair."

The reservoirs are filled to their brims. The Sierra Snowpack is at 103% of normal and poised to add water to those reservoirs as the snow melts and the water generated replenishes them as Californians draw from them in the coming dry season. Depleted groundwater basins are seeing some relief. The Colorado Basin is enjoying a healthy snowpack after years of drought. Lakes Mead and Powell are rising again after years of drawdown.

To put the moment in terms less generic and more empirical, UC San Diego’s Scripps Institute of Oceanography’s for Western Weather and Water Extremes has developed a tool that combines reservoir storage with snowpack to provide a much better and more accurate barometer of where things not only stand but are likely to go regarding the state’s water storage situation. From the latest release from Scripps, a chart that demonstrates in pictorial form why this moment does indeed represent “the best of times” for the state’s water supply situation.

Here are the most recent results from this “extra” way of capturing that more accurate snapshot of the state’s water supply situation:

Since 2015, the scientists at Scripps have been developing and circulating simple graphics that show how the combination of both forms of storage – Sierra snowpack and reservoirs – combine to better communicate water resource status over time. As for this specific moment in time – “the best of times,” as evidenced by this chart and two (2) salient facts: 1) The highest State Water Project allocation in 20 years, and 2) California’s ability to easily absorb the much smaller Colorado River givebacks between now and 2026 made possible thereby.

Of course, “times” change. When it comes to California’s precipitation patterns, those times oscillated a great deal in that calmer period of time (1880 – 2000) that coincided with the growth of the state and the construction of the state’s water storage and conveyance systems. But since 2000 those oscillations have graduated to a level of extremes so wild that we have come to refer to the current pattern as “weather whiplash.”

What is robust today can devolve quickly into what the state experienced from 2020-2022, the three driest years in succession since California started keeping records. What permits those easily absorbable Colorado River givebacks between now and 2026 won’t stave off a permanently reduced allocation come 2026 when the current agreement among the seven (7) states in the Colorado Compact terminates in favor of an agreement that divvies up what the river now produces after years of steady decline.

The “best” of water times also involves price increases that are guaranteed to outstrip inflation by wide margins. The wholesaler to most of Southern California’s retailers, Southern California Metropolitan (MWD), is set to raise the rates it charges those retailers 8.5% next year and another 8.5% on top of that the following year. In addition, MWD’s most recently adopted budget calls for doubling the MWD’s property tax assessment in its six-county area — the first such increase to its ad valorem (according to value) tax rate in over 30 years. Some of the increase is to accommodate increased costs of doing business, but most is related to the funding of the infrastructure projects necessary to develop the local water sources (e.g., storm water capture, aquifer recharge, potable reuse) capable of reducing the region’s reliance upon imports from the State Water Project and the Colorado Basin – imports that are in the case of the Sierra snowpack volatile in the extreme and in the case of the Colorado Basin permanently reduced by persistent aridification.

As for the golf rich Coachella Valley, which is not part of the MWD network except in a very narrow sense that involves some complicated exchange arrangements, it now faces roughly a $500 million bill to accommodate a recently adopted state directive to reduce the amount of Chromium-6 in 34 of the wells it draws upon to provide drinking water to its residents. The golf courses may not be domestic customers, but to the degree to which the District that oversees their water use (CVWD) incurs higher costs, they too are affected if only in ways other than rate. In addition, if the Regional Water Quality Board goes through with a proposal up for hearing May 14 to decrease by a factor of 33% the amount of nitrogen in CVWD’s recycled water, the golf course recycling program may come to a screeching halt unless the rates can rise to match the onerous costs that would be incurred thereby.

The moral of this story and its relevance to the Southern California golf community: Keep investing in the research necessary to develop more drought tolerant warm grass species, keep converting cool season grasses to warm season varieties, keep converting less drought tolerant Bermudagrass species to the new more drought tolerant species, keep removing unnecessary turf, keep upgrading irrigation systems, and well, just keep doing all the things the game has been doing for years to reduce its water footprint. The water is only going to become scarcer and more expensive.

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As we put a period on where things stand going into California’s long dry season, we need to share that what was not that long ago the virtual 3rd rail of Southwestern water politics – agricultural use – is no longer untouchable. Increasingly, both here in California and Arizona as well, more and more media outlets and policymakers have begun to question the wisdom of exempting agriculture from playing a more active role in helping the region continue to grow and thrive against the backdrop of aridification. We see it in the State Water Resources Control Board’s (SWRCB) pivot away from disproportionate reliance upon urban conservation to lower the state’s water use. We see it in ramped up media and academic questioning of the wisdom of continuing to highly favor water consumptive crops over less consumptive substitutes. We see it in increased public recognition of the role that diverting large volumes of river water plays in reducing the state’s salmon stock to near extinction levels. We see it in much more aggressive reporting of the large differential separating the water consumed by California’s 39 million residents from that of an agricultural sector whose preference for certain water consumptive crops is driven by those crops’ much greater profit potential.

What that portends in general is anybody’s guess. What that portends for a state golf community that consumes 0.73% of the potable water consumed in the state is anybody’s guess as well. But it’s most definitely something to track for whatever surcease it may offer for those sectors that have been under intense pressure to conserve.

Archived Updates

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Are you interested in becoming an advocate for golf in California? The CGCOA is seeking amateur golfers who are passionate about protecting the game of golf and promoting public policies that enable golf to flourish in California. Take the next step to becoming an advocate for golf by completing the attached Golf is Good Ambassador Application.

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Charles Dickens’ famous opening of “A Tale of Two Cities” comes to mind as a good descriptor of where California’s water situation and golf’s place in it stands after back-to-back record precipitation years: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...".

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