How Southern California golf courses are adjusting to new water restrictions

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

By Julia Jacobo ABC News 

(Disclosure: Rose Law Group represents the PGA)

(LOS ANGELES) — Water restrictions in the West are becoming commonplace as the megadrought intensifies and reservoir levels continue to recede — including in recreational facilities that require ample amounts of irrigation.

In Southern California, golf courses are altering the way they tend to the green in the wake of new state mandates and forecasts that climate change will cause drought conditions to persist.

Last month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom implored the state’s largest water suppliers to combat drought and better engage customers to ensure all residents are doing their part to save water. But California law distinguishes between ornamental and functional turf, with parks, sports fields, cemeteries and golf courses falling under the functional turf category, allowing them to practice “alternative means” of complying with the rules and restrictions, Craig Kessler, director of public affairs for the Southern California Golf Association, told ABC News. Functional turf is responsible for about 9% of the state’s water usage, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

Golf courses receive water budgets, based on state codes, and can alter the day of week, or time of week, in which they irrigate the grass, Kessler said.

In addition, although the varying levels of drought typically determine water budgets for households, golf courses do not fall under those ordinances. For instance, in the service area for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which houses nearly three dozen golf courses, a Level 3 drought ordinance aims for a 30% savings in water usage in households, Kessler said. However, the golf industry is “permanently” operating under a Level 2 drought, which has resulted in about 45% less water usage since 2009, and is not required to go up a level with the rest of the service area.


In the service area for the Pasadena Water and Power, golf courses are required to either cut their water usage by 15% or find alternate ways to make up that difference, Jeffrey Kightlinger, the utility company’s interim general manager, told ABC Los Angeles station KABC.

Los Angeles City Golf was awaiting on an agreement with the Department of Water and Power as to what percentage of water reduction they would face, Rick Reinschmidt, acting golf manager for the City of Los Angeles’ 12 courses, told ABC News.

Eight of the city courses are irrigated with recycled water, which does not fall under the state ordinances, but they are irrigating with a minimum of 25% reduction from the normal routine, Reinschmidt said.

“But we’re not exempting ourselves,” he said. “We’re cutting back the same as if we were not irrigating with recycled water.”

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