PHOENIX — Arizona water experts have known for a long time that an impasse was coming. Now the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) is involved in a lengthy back-and-forth with the state's powerful golf industry about groundwater reductions for the next decade.
In an effort to meet the reduction requirements agreed to in 1980, the water board is proposing that Phoenix-area golf courses that use groundwater reduce their use by 3.1%.
Some golf courses have not pushed back, but many are fighting it. The Arizona Alliance for Golf is now representing those "united" courses, and in an April meeting made a counter proposal to ADWR which involved about half of their initial reduction goal.
"Everybody sees what we're doing," said Rob Collins with the Paradise Valley Country Club. "We can't turn on a sprinkler without everyone seeing it and questioning whether or not we're wasting water."
The golf course managers, owners, and enthusiasts on the April 28 virtual meeting made it clear they thought the industry was already being efficient and the cuts would hurt business.
"Water is expensive so it’s critical to our businesses. It’s a major expense - hundreds of thousands of dollars," said Collins.
"There’s not a lot of room for improvement. We’ve already done more than most industries have already done," said Mark Woodward, president of Arizona’s Cactus and Pine Golf Course Superintendents Association.
"I do agree that many golf courses have done a really good job integrating low water-use landscaping... But that isn't enough here," said Sarah Porter, Director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy. "We're still pulling out more groundwater in the Phoenix area than is actually replenished, and we have to do something. We haven't gotten to where we should be and we need to do more."
Porter is quick to acknowledge the Arizona golf industry, which brings in an estimated $4.6 billion, is important to the Arizona economy.
"Our golf is kind of the same as the fountain in front of the Bellagio, you know, that a big attraction," said Porter, who also noted the grass is better for the desert heat island than concrete.
At their meeting in late April, the Arizona Department of Water Resources discussed different proposals, including an "Alliance" counter-proposal.
The water board's most recent proposal though, which came after more than ten meetings with golf stakeholders, asks Valley courses that use about 2% of the state's groundwater supply to make on average a 3.1% cut.
"What is our goal? Is it 1%, 2%, 10%? From my perspective I think it should be as much as we can achieve," said Tom Buschatzke, Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.
"It is so critical and so important because it’s the biggest issue we’ve ever faced. Rushing any decisions would not be good for the industry, the department, or anything," said Woodward. "It's critical we get these decisions right."
Regarding the ongoing discussions, the City of Phoenix told ABC15:
"The city doesn’t anticipate that this will lead to course closures. The annual water allotment determined by the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) for city courses has always been managed responsibly and the city will continue to look for ways to reduce water use. The city supports the ADWR and its efforts to manage the state’s water resources. The courses have high-efficiency irrigation systems that monitor water distribution year-round, and city staff work closely with irrigation experts at the courses to continually evaluate, adjust and repair those systems. Looking ahead long-term, removing play turf areas and replacing turf with more drought resistant turf is something that could be explored."