As the weathercasters inform us that this precipitation year looks like another La Niña pattern with its warmer and drier conditions for California and we wait to see whether they’re right, please remember that it’s never the last 100 days of a calendar year that matter. It’s always the first 100 days, particularly for the Sierra snowpack-dependent southern half of the state. Yes, early autumn rains and snows are encouraging, particularly for the many potable dependent golf courses currently on lean water budgets. But do remember that many dry years begin with wet Decembers, including last year, and many wet years begin with dry Decembers.
So, we wait. And while we wait, we watch. And what we watch most for is how much is in our reserves. It’s what we rely upon to get us through dry years. And what we’ve been “watching” for a long time is a draw down of those reserves during the driest 3-year stretch of the last 140 years, exacerbated by a long-anticipated reckoning along the Colorado River Basin, which was over-allocated well before the megadrought entered our lives back in 2002.
We have been reporting for a long time that California is set to permanently cede much of the Colorado River allocation accorded the state by federally sanctioned agreements dating back to 1922. The four main importers of that water (MWD, IID, CVWD, and PVID) made a 400,000-acre-foot down payment a few weeks ago. Late last week, the Biden Administration increased its pressure on California and the other 6 states that form the Colorado Compact to come to their long-awaited voluntary agreement to move from down payment to full payment by announcing that the Interior Department would be revising current rules re shortages in favor of new agreements that would much more radically reduce water draws in the Southwest.
In a Friday press release, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland stated the following: “The Interior Department continues to pursue a collaborative and consensus-based approach to addressing the drought crisis afflicting the West . . . At the same time, we are committed to taking prompt and decisive action necessary to protect the Colorado River System and all those who depend on it.”
The current system for dealing with shortages dates to 2007 – rules that were amended in 2019 to provide for accelerated curtailments as water levels in Lake Mead plunge toward “dead pool” status. Friday’s action proposes to “expedite” another round of amendments to substantially revise those original 2007 protocols as a springboard toward the major revision envisaged when those “rules” are set to expire in 2026.
Mark Twain’s famous quip, “whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting,” describes well the “fighting” and posturing going on at the moment. Arizona Senator Mark Kelly has suggested that the Federal Government withhold allocated monies for environmental mitigation at the Salton Sea until California gives up much more than 400,000-acre-feet of Colorado River water. The states are preparing their lawsuits to counter federal pre-emption of state sovereignty. And the federal government hopes that by indicating that it will dictate final terms no later than July, the states will come together to apportion givebacks voluntarily.
Bottom line for golf in Southern California: The Metropolitan Water District (MWD) that serves the needs of 19 million Southern Californians is working on plans for mandatory conservation measures for the cities and local agencies it supplies, and the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) that serves the needs of those who live, work, and play among the 120 golf courses that form the densest concentration of golf properties in the United States will be looking down the barrel of its first significant curtailment of supply – not a large curtailment, but a curtailment nonetheless.
What this means for Southern California golf: To the degree to which Mother Nature supplies enough rain and snow the first 100 days of 2023 to keep the region at Levels 2, 3, or 4 of drought (we’re generally in Level 3 in now), golf has worked hard the last 25 years to arrive at this moment sufficiently resilient to thrive with little consequence. However, should Mother Nature prove cruel, and the region progresses toward Level 5 or 6 of drought, those courses without access to recycled water or groundwater will suffer. And as we have warned the USGA, there will be no exceptions for golf’s national championship in Los Angeles next June should LADWP enter Level 5 drought, which in that jurisdiction allows golf courses to irrigate tees, greens, and “critically sensitive areas” only. We think we know what a “critically sensitive area” is and suffice it to say it doesn’t include fairways or roughs.
And so, we watch, and we wait. And we plan.
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FORE - The magazine of the SCGA. Find archived Public Affairs articles on the website of the SCGA's award winning quarterly publication.Read More →
With COVID now behind us, no more bills like AB 1910 in the immediate offing, and the game’s drought response cum coping mechanisms in high gear, we plan to pivot back toward municipal golf in 2023.Read More →
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