Monday, October 2, 2023

Article provided by Craig Kessler, SCGA

The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) is set this Wednesday to open its first public hearing on the Proposed Rule it published August 18 to effectuate what the Governor and others have termed “Making Conservation a California Way of Life.” The Board will open that hearing with a 4-hour staff presentation, which should give you some idea of just how epochal the Rule purports to be. Those with enormous appetites for detail can click here to read it.

What is “Making Conservation a California Way of Life?” It is many things, but in simple terms it is a new regulatory framework that establishes individualized efficiency goals for each Urban Retail Water Supplier. These goals are based on the unique characteristics of the supplier’s service area and give suppliers the flexibility to implement locally appropriate solutions, a feature that makes this epochal moment an improvement over some of the State’s past one-size-fits-all moments. Once implemented, these goals are expected to reduce urban water use by more than 400-thousand-acre feet by 2030. Given that most of the state’s golf stock is served by Urban Water Districts, golf’s stake in all this is obvious if not always direct.

The proposed regulation would require suppliers to annually calculate their objective, which is the sum of efficiency budgets for a subset of urban water uses: residential indoor water use, residential outdoor water use, real water loss and commercial, industrial, and institutional landscapes with dedicated irrigation meters. Each efficiency budget will be calculated using a statewide efficiency standard and local service area characteristics such as population, climate, and landscape area. Where relevant, suppliers may also include in their objective “variances” for unique uses, or a bonus incentive for potable recycled water use. Suppliers would need to meet the overall objective, not each individual budget. It is only “Urban Retail Water Suppliers” – not individual households or businesses – that will be held to the annual “urban water use objectives” developed thereby.

Why is SWRCB adopting this epochal Rule? While the State did for the most part achieve most of the goals it set for itself in the 20% by 2020 Rule adopted in the 1st decade of this Century, continued drought, wide swings in Sierra snow deposition, and the rapid aridification of the Colorado Basin have made it necessary to adopt another set of long-term goals to ensure the State’s ability to deliver the water necessary to sustain life, health, business, agriculture, and recreation at levels consistent with the expectation of population growth.

The authority for SWRCB’s envisaged Rule comes from two (2) sources: 1) Legislation adopted in 2018 (AB 1668 and SB 606) directing the State Water Board to adopt efficiency standards and performance measures for commercial, industrial, and institutional water use; and 2) the Executive Branch’s August 2022 “Water Supply Strategy” summarizing the four (4) broad areas of state action comprising the State’s coordinated strategy for continued water resiliency:

1.Developing new water supplies.

2.Expanding water storage capacity above and below ground by four million acre-feet.

3.Reducing demand.

4.Improving forecasting, data, and management, including water rights modernization.

The last point is bolded to emphasize a point we’ve made repeatedly about what we find to be the most important takeaway from the just completed 2023 legislative session – that the unraveling of those water rights long-held (since 1850, 1873, and 1913 to be precise) and long considered sacred has only just begun. Again, while not always directly related to golf, particularly in the short term, this is all certainly impactful to the degree to which the final destination of that unraveling is sure to affect golf’s access to water – and to the price of that access.

The first two strategies – developing new water supplies and expanding storage capacity – are gravy for a water consumptive sector like golf. The last strategy with its ancillary goal of “modernizing” water rights is in its infancy but bears close scrutiny and no doubt at some point perhaps even some narrow intervention. It’s the third strategy – reducing demand – that demands golf’s attention in the SWRCB Rulemaking just now getting into high gear to ensure that golf continues to be categorized as a “special” or “large landscape” meriting biologically appropriate plant factors in state regulations (e.g., MWELO), a “functional” use of turf meriting the continued use of potable water where non-potable sources are unavailable, and a “recreational” use the same as parks and sports fields to keep it firmly in that class of public amenity that can only be provided on turf. Of course, to do that, golf will have to not only continue, but double down on, its commitment to reducing its water footprint. This demands investment in new technologies, new practices, and new grasses, as well as the research that is the sine qua non of all three.


“If you have a creative idea for saving water on your golf course, we have a rebate program for you,” announced the Metropolitan Water District’s (MWD) Gary Tilkian at last month’s golf and water networking session in downtown Los Angeles, where leaders of the golf community met with leaders of MWD, Los Angeles Water & Power, Long Beach Water, and other water providers to collaborate on ways to further reduce the game’s water footprint.

Formally called the “Water Savings Investment Program” (WISP), the MWD program differs from traditional rebate programs in that it is performance based. You don’t get paid up front. You get paid as you demonstrate that your “creative idea” saves water.

How the program works:The application must be approved before the project is deployed or installed to ensure funding eligibility.Projects must save at least 10 million gallons of water over ten years.Projects cannot be new construction.Customers require at least three years of water use history to establish a baseline before the project is deployed.Projects cannot replace potable water with another water source as a water-saving method.

Los Angeles Water & Power (LADWP) has a parallel program it calls its “Technical Assistance Program” or TAP for short. At the networking session LADWP Conservation Manager Mark Gentili explained the program the way his agency explains it on its website.

“Sometimes one size doesn’t fit all. Commercial, industrial, institutional, and multi-family customers may benefit from a customized approach to reducing their water use and costs. . . The program offers up to $2,000,000 in financial incentives for pre-approved equipment and products that demonstrate water savings.”

Once a golf course upgrades its irrigation system, removes turf, replaces nozzles, and pursues the investments for which traditional rebates and financial incentives are available, it runs out of cards to play in a game of water footprint reduction that golf has to keep playing if it hopes to thrive in an environment in which supplies from the Sierra Nevada are subject to wide swings and supplies from the Colorado River are guaranteed to be significantly curtailed.

SCGA helped organize this networking session to help spread the word; there are customized, golf specific programs that major water agencies are eager to work with golf to craft and then fund. To that end, the session was capped off by a presentation to Brentwood Country Club of a 1st installment of what is “on track” to eventually be a $67,000.00 rebate for a soil-based conservation program that is anything but “traditional” to the golf industry.

Many of MWD’s retailers – e.g., LADWP – offer parallel “performance based” incentives, which allows a golf course to receive additional monies for the same program – double dip as it were.

The session was sufficiently successful that MWD has decided to take the same show on the road to San Diego County to join forces with the San Diego County Water Authority, San Diego Public Utilities, and whatever other MWD member agencies care to participate to share the same good news about these programs. SCGA will certainly do what it can to help coordinate, facilitate, and advertise the event.

We can report that parallel thinking is going on right now in the Coachella Valley, where the CVWD Golf & Water Task Force is working to craft rebate programs that incentivize more than just turf removal.

For more information about the MWD program click here. For further information about the LADWP program click here. If you’re reading this from San Diego County, stay tuned. The SCGA will keep you informed. If you’re reading this from the Coachella Valley, follow the progress of the Golf & Water Task Force that meets regularly with the Coachella Valley Water District – that and the constant updating from the Hi-Lo Chapter GCSAA.

These more “creative” or “performance based” incentive programs may seem small, but today’s “small” often becomes tomorrow’s large. And they can never become large unless they start small. Everything golf does in terms of conservation is a long-distance run, not a sprint.