In California oasis, ample water leads to waste

June 19, 2012 by Leila Macor
A view of an LPGA event at the Mission Hills Country Club in Palm Springs, California in 2011. Set in the Coachella Valley southeast of Los Angeles, the famously well-heeled town sits atop a huge aquifer able to provide for the 400,000 residents of the region's 10 towns.

An oasis in the California desert, Palm Springs says it is committed to saving water -- but not before filling its swimming pools and tending to its dozens of verdant golf courses.

Set in the Coachella Valley southeast of Los Angeles, the famously well-heeled town known as a refuge for retired Hollywood stars sits atop a huge aquifer able to provide for the 400,000 residents of the region's 10 towns.

Despite its parched setting and baking temperatures, the valley plays host to regular golf competitions and the Indian Wells tennis championship, as well as one of America's biggest .

For now, the aquifer -- an underground layer of rock containing some 50 billion cubic meters (1.7 trillion cubic feet) of -- meets the valley's daily needs, 16 percent of which goes to keeping the roughly 100 local golf courses green.

But with the ample water supply comes waste.

An average household in Palm Springs consumes some 1,233 cubic meters (43,542 cubic feet) of water a year, twice as much as the average US home, which itself uses one of the highest figures worldwide.

"When you compare (us) to other places in the state, our number is high, we know this," said Heather Engel, communications director for the Coachella Valley Water District, in an interview with AFP.

But "our consumption is going down. In recent years people are becoming more conscious and aware of the need to conserve water."

It may take more than a change in attitude to truly make a difference, according to experts.

Noah Garrison, a lawyer and analyst at the Council, points to landscaping as a .

"We are in a desert or , and yet we have huge expanses of lawns, golf courses (and) other areas that require vast amounts of water," Garrison said.

"Landscaping in general in Southern California doesn't make sense for the climate we are in," he added.

"In order to make sure that we are able to meet our water needs in the future, we need to be smarter about the way we use water now."

While the aquifer is a key source of water for Palm Springs, the district also pumps water from the Colorado River and ice from surrounding mountains to top up its supplies and stop subsidence in the valley, which has sunk 20 centimeters (eight inches) in the last 15 years.

Some steps have been taken to promote conservation.

The district has implemented water-saving measures, including pricing that penalizes waste.

It also runs three recycling plants that treat waste water for some 16 major clients, including golf courses, but such efforts come with high pumping costs.

Richard Mogensen, general manager of Desert Willows Golf Resort, said proper infrastructure was not yet in place to encourage more clubs to use recycled water.

"The challenge is that they haven't developed the full infrastructure of piping throughout the whole valley to get more clubs on it," he said. "It takes money."

Without an economic incentive, it therefore remains unlikely that -- which on average use up to 1.2 million cubic meters (42.4 million cubic feet) of water a year -- will choose recycled supplies.

Another challenge to increasing supplies of recycled water is the fluctuating nature of Palm Springs tourism, which provides a major source of revenue, Engel said.

In summer, when temperatures are at their most punishing and tourist numbers at their lowest, not enough waste water is produced. And in winter, the high season for tourism, there is less need to recycle because it rains.

Garrison, meanwhile, said California as a whole has seen increasingly long periods of drought in recent years and warned that this does not bode well for the future.

"There are a lot of indications that we are going to see drier conditions in the future -- we're going to see less water availability, and that's something that we need to prepare for."

Explore further: Beijing plans rule to curb capital's water usage

Related Stories

Beijing plans rule to curb capital's water usage

March 26, 2012

Authorities in Beijing plan to pass a rule this year aimed at curbing water usage by the capital's many golf courses and ski resorts, an official said Monday, as the city battles severe shortages.

Golf courses that reuse water irrigate too much

March 15, 2011

Irrigation is one of the most controversial aspects in the sustainable management of golf courses. Researchers from the Canary Islands have spent 25 years analysing the practices relating to reclaimed water at one of the ...

Australia might drink recycled waste water

May 27, 2006

City officials in Goulburn, Australia, are studying whether residents will concede to use recycled effluent for drinking water, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Earth has less water than you think

May 8, 2012

If you were to take all of the water on Earth — all of the fresh water, sea water, ground water, water vapor and water inside our bodies — take all of it and somehow collect it into a single, giant sphere of liquid, ...

Recommended for you

How the Elwha dam removals changed the river's mouth

January 19, 2018

For decades, resource managers agreed that removing the two dams on the Elwha River would be a big win for the watershed as a whole and, in particular, for its anadromous trout and salmon. The dams sat on the river for more ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jun 19, 2012
This is a joke, right? Palm Springs is the home of the uber wealthy and their servants. Take away the golf courses and they will go elsewhere.... like Madrid.... or Tokyo.
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 20, 2012
Who would have thought California is a desert.
1 / 5 (2) Jun 20, 2012
That's the strangest thing... I read the title, and then the entire article, and I saw nothing that indicated any degree of wasting water. I realize that sometimes in California they have different definitions for what are otherwise commonly accepted terms, but calling watering landscaping, lawns, golf courses, and filling pools "waste" is a political issue, not a scientific one.

Emptying a pool's worth of water into the street, just to watch it sparkle as it flows off downhill, might be considered wasteful (maybe, in certain circumstances), but FILLING the pool? Not at all.

Someone who thinks watering a golf course is wasteful has bigger problems in their life. And that's coming from someone who does not play golf.
1 / 5 (1) Jun 20, 2012
Here is the story with Palm Springs, a close neighbor; they have more money than you've got. But given that, they are pretty water conscious for what they do.
not rated yet Jun 21, 2012
They have not got it yet, when the water runs out all the money in the world will not sustain their lifestyle. This world is dreaming into disaster, too many people, no equality in sharing resources.
1 / 5 (2) Jun 21, 2012
...when the water runs out...

The water is not going to run out. Not comletely and not for long, even in extended drought conditions. Oh I'll admit that it may be occasionally shut off for political reasons (see also: other parts of California), but "out"? Hardly. equality in sharing resources.

Good thing too, because "equality in sharing resources" can only be truly achieved via that little thing I like to call "a totalitarian nighmare", in which case it is always a matter of "sharing limited and rapidly diminishing resources" until the tyrants are overthrown.

So, you know, drink up!
not rated yet Jun 21, 2012
Water won't run out, but it will become ever more expensive. CA already has desalinization plants in the works. Unfortunately for PS, they are not near the ocean and so will pay the higher price or invest in a new water distribution system to make use of recycled water for irrigation.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.