U.S. Water News Online
LAS VEGAS -- Steve Swanson looked out onto his lush, green
golf course and gestured to the rolling fairways. ``A lot more's
going to have to come out,'' the Siena Golf Club superintendent said
as he stood in a bed of crushed rock that used to be verdant grass.
By next year, many Las Vegas golf courses will have to take out
some of their precious turf or let the grass turn brown in order to
meet new watering restrictions. It's part of a new, tougher stance on
conservation in one of the driest cities in the West, and a sign that
Las Vegas may finally be getting serious about water waste.
Golf course officials say they recognize the need to conserve. But
some say they are being unfairly targeted because water officials
can't curtail water use or waste by the biggest offenders:
``It's a very easy target to say, hey, look at that big ol' green
thing there,'' said Stan Spraul, general manager of Southern
Highlands Golf Club and a director of the Nevada Golf Course Owners
Association. ``If we drop 10 percent of what we use, it's a lot less
impact than if homeowners could save 10 percent.''
Thus far, Las Vegas has shown little enthusiasm for restricting
water use. Officials are still assuring developers water shortages
should have no effect on the booming growth of this metro area of 1.5
million people in the middle of a desert.
But Lake Mead, fed by the Colorado River and the source of
southern Nevada's drinking water, has dropped 60 feet in the last two
years, to its lowest level since 1972. And last year, for the first
time, Las Vegas exceeded its 300,000 acre-feet allotment from the
Colorado. The valley will likely have to tap into groundwater
reserves before the end of the year.
Homeowners also face new restrictions, and new homes soon may not
be allowed to have grass in their front yards. But water managers
also are going after golf courses, some of the most visible users of
water even though their actual consumption is far below that of
``It absolutely has to be done,'' said Doug Bennett, conservation
manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority. ``Everyone will have
to give something. It's not going to be easy.''
Under the authority's drought plan, golf courses would soon be
restricted from using more than 7 acre feet of water a year. By
January, Las Vegas is expected to move into a ``drought alert'' that
will force courses to cut use even more, to 5.7 acre feet of water a
Most golf courses already meet the 7 acre-feet rule, but some
executives say moving to 5.7 acre feet of water a year isn't
attainable -- not if the courses want to keep green fairways.
Many newer courses were designed as desert courses, meaning there
are breaks in turf throughout the course, but some of the older
courses, like Spanish Trails Country Club, are wall-to-wall grass.
``It's harder for older facilities that have been here 15, 20, 35
years, that were built under a different concept,'' said Jesse
Thorpe, general manager of Spanish Trails. ``Twenty years ago, they
weren't really looking at where the valley would be now.''
Homeowners use 65 percent of the area's water, and of that 75
percent is used outdoors, Bennett said. Golf courses use only 5
percent of the water. Hotels and casinos use 8 percent of the water
but most of that -- including the show case fountains on the Strip --
Bennett said golf courses aren't being singled out. He noted
homeowners are forbidden from watering outside from noon until 7 p.m.
during the summer. Under the drought watch and drought alert,
homeowners and resorts would be assigned specific days when they
would be allowed to use water outside.
``It should really be the start of a huge wake-up call,'' Jane
Feldman, conservation chair for the local branch of the Sierra Club,
said of the new drought rules. ``If it's not, we're doomed.''
Feldman said Las Vegas should always have had a drought plan, and
curbing water use on golf courses won't change anything if homeowners
don't start using common sense.
``It is out of control,'' she said. ``It has just been
tremendously, a huge case of horrible ignorance that led us to this
place to begin with.''
Water officials are offering golf courses rebates of up to
$300,000 to ease the cost of converting turf. Still, golf course
officials say they won't be able to fully recoup the money it costs
to rip out turf and transition to rocks and desert plants.
But if they don't comply with the new restrictions, they will pay
for it -- with water prices of up to six times the normal rate. For
example, a course using 8 acre feet of water a year that doesn't cut
back would pay $177,500 a year in surcharges.
Swanson's course already falls short of the 7 acre-feet
restriction, so his crew has taken out six acres of turf and will
take out at least another four. He also plans to start using recycled
water, as some other courses in Las Vegas do.
Spraul said Las Vegas should have started thinking about drought
restrictions three years ago so courses could have each come up with
a conservation plan. Now, courses aren't left with many options, and
he worries that golfers may go elsewhere, where the grass is
``If we're having to do things where the golf courses are not as
attractive, then why wouldn't these golf course (players) go to
Phoenix or Palm Springs?'' Spraul asked.
The new desert look is a change Las Vegas golfer Linda Olsson
certainly doesn't prefer.
``I can understand why it's being done,'' she said as she sat in
her golf cart. ``But aesthetically, I don't like it.''
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