Water swap may spell bankruptcy for golf course

Posted at 10:33 PM, Feb 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-01 09:16:00-05

The lush grass of a San Tan Valley golf course is threatened and it’s because the course’s water bill could spike as much as 400 percent, potentially forcing the club to stop watering its grass as the Arizona summer looms, the course’s owner told ABC15 on Monday.

Several homeowners, who live along the course, said they would move away if the water issue led to the desert reclaiming the fairways and greens.

The Golf Club at Johnson Ranch could see its water bill balloon from $100,000 annually to up to $500,000, club owner David Ashton said.

“We’d go bankrupt,” Ashton said of the effect of trying to pay the bill.  He predicted that the club might have to stop watering the course if the club hemorrhages cash in a legal fight over the water bills.

Earlier this month, Johnson Utilities notified the course of its plan to switch the type of water it supplies to the course. Instead of effluent, treated sewer water, the utility would send the course non-potable water, including what it pumps from the ground, the utility’s attorney, Jeff Crockett, said.

Rather than selling the golf course effluent, the utility would let the effluent drain into underground aquifers, Crockett said. That would generate groundwater credits that would reduce bills for the majority of water customers, according to the utility.  Arizona’s groundwater regulations call for taxes for withdrawing water and credits for depositing groundwater, according to regulatory filings by the utility.

The golf course could not react to the higher water rates by raising playing fees because the market would not support it, club leadership said. 

A Feb. 19 letter from the utility said the water switch would come within five days. 

“You can’t play a golf course that’s total concrete,” said Bob Matheson, who has lived along the course for 18 years. “You’ve got to have the green,” Matheson said of the need to keep watering the course.

“Places become ghost towns,” Howard Frazier said of golf communities that lose their golf course.

Frazier, who also lives along the course, would move out if the course went dry.

“The property values [would] plummet,” he said.

The golf club has taken their case to the Arizona Corporation Commission, with a request that the utility continue to sell it effluent. The utility has asked that the case be dismissed.