Yesterday four of California’s key water districts – Metropolitan Water District (MWD), Imperial Irrigation District (IID), Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD), and Palo Verde Irrigation District (PVID) – pledged to cede 400,000 acre-feet of their current allotments back to the Colorado River Basin. That is roughly 9% of the 4.4 million acre-feet that California is guaranteed by right under the terms of the 1922 Colorado River Compact and various amendments thereto since.
Over-allocated in the best of times, prolonged drought fed by aridification has reduced the two major reservoirs fed by the Colorado River (Lake Mead and Lake Powell) to near “dead pool” status, giving rise to the fear that if the seven states that form the Colorado River Compact don’t voluntarily cede some of their rights to that water, the source that feeds so many in the Southwest (roughly 40 million) will fall below the critical mass necessary to keep providing critical water and energy needs. It is the 2nd of the two “sources” that Southern California imports to provide for the needs of 19 million residents – the other being the Sierra snowpack.
Given that 400,000 acre-feet is but a fraction of the 2-4 million acre-feet that the US Bureau of Reclamation has deemed the amount of aggregate giveback that would be required of the seven Colorado Compact states to restore the Basin to stasis, most regard yesterday’s action as California’s opening bid in a process meant to cajole some of the states in the Compact’s Upper Basin to cede some of their “by-right” allocations – an opening bid to be followed up by further givebacks once certain other recalcitrant states issue their own bids in the giveback process. Until yesterday California too was a “recalcitrant” state, not to be confused with recent allocation reductions in Nevada and Arizona that have been forced as opposed to voluntary, albeit whether forced or voluntary, the pain is the same.
What does this mean for Southern California golf? For the Coachella Valley, which is not part of the MWD family, it means the least, as that region is the beneficiary of an incredibly rich local source in the huge aquifer that sits beneath it. However, “least” is a relative term. It doesn’t mean zero impact. The Coachella Valley uses Colorado River water to replenish that aquifer directly in the form of spreading grounds and indirectly in the form of offsetting pumping by golf courses. So, there will be some impact, but again, that impact will be considerably less than the other regions of Southern California dependent upon Colorado River imports. As with previous spikes in the mega-drought, the impact may be as much political as it is real – with “real” defined as supply-based impact and “political” defined as perceived or optical impact.
For the rest of Southern California, it means that those 13 million MWD customers that were spared the draconian curtailments imposed on MWD’s 6 million state water project dependent customers earlier this year (June 1) are going to be joining them sometime very early next year.
Golf courses in Ventura County, parts of Santa Barbara County, the City of Los Angeles, and certain parts of the San Gabriel Valley and Inland Empire are part of that class of 6 million customers and as such, have been under varying degrees of curtailments for months now. They’re managing the situation, and in their management regimens and protocols, both golf-centric and regulatory, there is much that the 13 million about to join them can learn.
It hasn’t been easy, but most (albeit sadly not all) of the regulatory regimens imposed on those golf courses have been cognizant of golf courses as “Special Landscape Areas” recognized in California law as “functional turf.” However, golf forgets at great peril that when persons cannot water their lawns more than one night a week, distinctions between ornamental and functional turf are easily trumped by some of human nature’s less desirable traits. And in politics it’s always public opinion that matters, and whether that opinion is animated by fact or fiction matters not.
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