A good walk spoiled... by overwatering 18 holes

jc-mg-200-names.jpgMark Gold writes: I've been an environmental scientist and activist for nearly 30 years. During that time, I've continued in a recreational pursuit that isn't exactly consistent with my career pursuit of water conservation, clean water and habitat conservation: golf. Despite the fact that I've opposed the construction of numerous golf courses, including the notorious Ocean Trails on Palos Verdes (now Trump National), I still enjoy occasionally playing 18 with friends.

I picked up the habit of playing golf during high school because the spectacular Riviera Country Club was Santa Monica High School's home course, and my first job was as a 15-year-old caddy at Hillcrest Country Club lugging two 45-pound trunks up and down the hilly, 6,500-yard track. In exchange for caddying, I got free golf twice a week, received about $30 tax free per loop, got really skilled at playing gin with professional caddies who made "Caddyshack" seem like a documentary, and occasionally got yelled at by attorneys who represented Occidental Petroleum.

Rancho Park Golf Course.jpgI'm confessing my longterm addiction to the game, because I played 18 holes at Rancho Park Golf Course last weekend and the experience was the proverbial last straw. Here we are in the middle of the driest consecutive years in the recorded history of Los Angeles County, and I'm slogging through a bog brought to you by the Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation. There were small ponds three inches deep right next to at least three greens. And Rancho doesn't have any water hazards. In addition, there were sections on the tee boxes and some of the fairways that could qualify as wetland and waters of the United States, even under the current Supreme Court's definitions.

Many Central Valley farmers have finally stopped flood irrigation in the last couple of years, yet we're still flooding--or at least severely overwatering--our local municipal golf courses.

The history of Los Angeles water conservation is an environmental success story. As a city, we're still using the same amount of water we did 40 years ago with more than a million more people. However, the vast majority of that success is due to indoor water efficiency improvements. At least based on my 35-plus-years of playing LA city courses, I haven't seen any dramatic changes in irrigation. And even if the muni tracks are using less water--I'm assuming they still don't spray irrigate at high noon anymore, at least I hope not--there should never be standing water on the courses and irrigation shouldn't lead to high flows in the storm drains that parallel the fairways. Any runoff leaving a golf course during the spring, summer or fall is an absolute waste of potable water.

I'm not suggesting that the city should let golf courses dry up during the drought, even though some regions are on the verge of banning lawn watering. In fact, some courses like Balboa, Encino, Woodley, Harding and Wilson rely on recycled water for irrigation, so they aren't eating into our increasingly scarce potable water supplies. However, Parks and Rec can certainly water a heck of a lot less and confine irrigation to tee boxes, fairways and greens. Also, they can develop a water conservation plan and ethic that is far more suited to our Mediterranean climate, rather than the bayous of the Atchafalaya Basin.

Reminder: Jon Christensen is moderating a series of conversations about water at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County on Thursday evenings this summer beginning this Thursday, July 10. Mark Gold will join a panel on Southern California water waters on July 31. See our column about the series here.

Photo of Rancho Park Golf Course courtesy of Flickr user ATIS547.

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