Real Solutions for Meeting California's Water Needs

If Speaker Boehner were in search of real solutions to California’s ever-worsening drought, he may have noticed something startlingly green during his visit to the state last week.  He spent part of that trip, as the Sacramento Bee put it, “doing a little rainmaking for the National Republican Congressional Committee amidst the lush, irrigated golf courses of Palm Springs.”  Palm Springs and its environs in the Coachella Valley are home to 124 golf courses.  It takes a lot of water to keep 124 golf courses looking green and lush in the desert – about 124,000 acre-feet per year according to the Coachella Valley Water District’s website.  That’s nearly one-fifth of all the water used by the City of Los Angeles in a year.  A mere 12 of these golf courses use recycled water for irrigation, with over 100 of Coachella Valley’s golf courses still relying on groundwater and Colorado River water for irrigation – withdrawals that are contributing to significant groundwater overdraft in the area. 

So what are local water officials doing about this groundwater overdraft?  They’re importing water from another overtapped supply – the San Francisco Bay-Delta via the State Water Project – and using that water to replenish those groundwater basins that have been overdrawn to keep thousands of acres of golf courses green – to the tune of more than 2.5 million acre-feet of imported water since 1973. 

Now, I don’t have anything against golfing, but it simply makes no sense for a state that experiences regular and expected droughts not to maximize the use of recycled water on golf courses and every other facility that is able to use recycled water, such as irrigation for landscaping and groundwater recharge.  If we as a state are able to build the massive infrastructure that we have in place to move water from northern California, across vast plains and mountain ranges, to the tips of southern California, surely we can invest in more water recycling plants and pipelines to bring that water to golf courses in Palm Springs?

The state’s most recent water plan update recognizes the huge untapped potential that lies in increased water recycling:  it estimates that California could generate 1.8-2.3 million acre-feet annually of new water supply from municipal recycling investments alone. Even the low end of that estimate would provide more than ten times the amount of recycled water needed to keep Coachella Valley’s golf courses green.  The Governor’s just-released Water Action Plan similarly recognizes the need for more water recycling and proposes a number of measures to assist with and expedite investments in water recycling.

A serious commitment to expanding our water recycling efforts and facilities represents a real solution for California’s water challenges; one that will help us expand our water supplies while reducing the pressure on the overtaxed Delta and overdrawn groundwater aquifers.  The plan endorsed by Speaker Boehner, in contrast, targets fisheries protections that have had little to no effect on water supplies this year, but which are desperately needed to revive our ailing rivers and Delta. 

It’s too bad Speaker Boehner didn’t take the time to look for real solutions on his recent golf outing.  Expanding water recycling holds great promise for California; recycled partisan posturing does not.