By: Craig Kessler

California is home to 866 golf courses.  Together they consume less than 1% of the potable water consumed in the state, a percentage that goes steadily down with each passing year.  If they were to all disappear tomorrow Californians would not notice an appreciable difference in their water supply, but they would notice the loss of a $13.2 billion industry that directly employs 130,000 persons.  And the state’s large municipalities would notice the loss of hefty net revenue streams they employ to support their park systems.

While these may be inconvenient facts for those who would lay disproportionate blame on the golf industry for California’s water woes, it is not an excuse for inaction.  To paraphrase an iconic Midwestern United States Senator, a percent here and a percent there, and pretty soon you’re talking real water.

And that’s the point.  There are a lot of industries that are dependent upon water to produce their products and keep us awash in employment, economic activity, and tax receipts.  Some are visible, such as farms, golf courses, cemeteries, sports stadia, and parks, and many are invisible, such as oil refineries, bottling plants, restaurants, and small manufacturers.  But most if not all began reducing their respective water footprints well before the current drought crisis, and most if not all have long standing plans to continue that trajectory after a little rain and snow brings us temporary relief.

For the California golf industry those long standing plans have meant conversion to recycled water, large investments in sophisticated weather based computer controlled irrigation systems, removal of turf, elimination of water intensive practices such as over seeding, replacement of cool season grasses with warm season varieties, use of wetting agents and soil moisture monitors, employment of drought tolerant native species, and the development of drought contingency plans that provide clear prescriptions for how to ramp up water reductions during drought emergencies.

Because of all of the above, the golf industry is poised to accelerate what is already in place and play its role in accomplishing the Governor’s call for 25% savings by February 2016.  No doubt, many other “one-percenters” are similarly poised, as are larger users such as agriculture and manufacturing.

The last three years have brought us the driest year on record, the hottest year on record, and the lowest Sierra snowpack on record.  If next year brings us another such superlative acknowledgement, today’s emergency will become tomorrow’s crisis.  We can respond by sacrificing scapegoats.  We can respond by engaging in ponderous comparisons between the amounts of water it takes to produce a walnut and put a steak on the table.  We can respond by lamenting our lack of prescience in failing to add storage capacity, develop recapture infrastructure, or construct greater recycling capacity.  We can even respond by seeking to exempt ourselves by dint of the paltry percentage of potable water our industry uses.

Or we can respond by pulling together instead of pulling apart.  Just as hard cases make bad law, crises produce measures that are imperfect.  We can perfect them when we have the luxury of the time necessary to do so.  Right now we need to cease the scapegoating, finger pointing and nitpicking – and get about working together to ensure that we position ourselves to deal with a 5th year of drought should that bad fortune come to pass.

Article by Craig Kessler, which was featured in the Summer 2015 FORE Issue.