U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater once stated, “. . . there are three things a Westerner will fight over — water, gold and women, in that order.” The state’s thriving golf community knows how right Goldwater was since it relies heavily on water in order to maintain both courses and clubs. In practice, Arizona’s history of water conservation speaks well for its founders and current stewards. The principal agency charged with ensuring Arizona has sufficient water for the rest of the 21st century is the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR). The mission statement of the ADWR is “to ensure long-term, sufficient and secure water supply.” Its focus is quantity. It regulates neither cost (municipalities and the Arizona Corporation Commission, for private utilities only, control this) nor quality (an EPA responsibility), but does team with these entities to achieve the State’s water conservation goals.
Heading the ADWR is Acting Director Sandra Fabritz-Whitney. Armed with a degree in Environmental Resources from Arizona State University, Fabritz-Whitney joined ADWR 19 years ago and has worked in all phases of the department, including the Arizona Water Banking Authority and as a major player in the Blue Ribbon Panel on Water Sustainability, on which AGA Executive Director Ed Gowan represented the golf industry.
To help AGA understand what the ADWR does, freelance writer Michael Bartlett spoke with Fabritz- Whitney and asked her to provide a summary overview and update on some of its activities.
Arizona The State of Golf: Outline the major water issues facing the State of Arizona.
Fabritz-Whitney: One, protection of the long-term surface water supply, i.e., the Colorado River, including the Central Arizona Project (CAP), and other above-ground sources in Arizona. Two, protection of all groundwater supplies (underground sources). Three, planning for drought scenarios in which we would have to limit water usage. We also monitor the use of “reclaimed water.” Technically, this means water previously used for other purposes and then treated to return it to drinking water standards.
Q: What plans and programs does the ADWR have in place to deal with these?
A: We maintain regular contact with the seven “Basin States” (Arizona, California, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Nevada, Colorado) to make sure we have enough supplies. Additionally, within Arizona we are currently engaged in a statewide evaluation of the 25-, 50- and 100-year demand and supply needs that will take us into the 22nd century. The “right to access” water supplies is something we watch closely, including the legalities of this. Regular assessments of the five Active Management Areas (AMA) lets us see how they (Phoenix, Tucson, Pinal, Santa Cruz and Prescott) are meeting their statutory management needs.
Q: How does the ADWR view the golf community?
A: Obviously, Arizona views the golf community as a positive economic force that creates jobs and revenue back to the state. But, it is also a major user of water and our role is to work with golf courses to meet the long-range goals mentioned above.
Q: Practically, what does this mean?
A: Basically, we divide golf courses into pre-1980 and post- 1980. 1980 marks the adoption of the landmark Groundwater Management Act (GMA) — a long-term strategy that created the Active Management Areas (AMA). Courses built before 1980 generally had more turfgrass and used more water. In 1985 the GMA set a general ceiling of 90 acres of turf and courses coming on line must observe this rule. In two decades, we estimate this guideline has saved the Phoenix AMA alone more than three billion gallons of water per year. Since the GMA’s inception, golf courses have taken a leadership role in finding ways to conserve water, especially when it comes to new technologies; primarily because they have the capital to invest in these. They are on the forefront of developing new best practices other industries can model.
Q: How do you incentivize golf courses to reduce water usage?
A: We don’t require that golf courses use reclaimed water. We do reward such use with reduced rates, i.e., instead of 1.0 per acre foot we charge .6 per acre foot. Courses monitor their use and turn in an annual report. Most do stay within their allotment.
Q: Does ADWR have a point person to deal directly with the golf course community?
A: Yes, we do, and that person works regularly with golf course superintendents to get a better understanding of the people who implement our guidelines. We want to know what they are doing, especially in the way of innovations, so we learn together.
Q: Does the ADWR ever hold an annual summit-type meeting with representatives of the golf course community?
A: No, but it sounds like something ADWR should organize and I’m going to look into the possibility of convening such a gathering.
Q: Comment on the recently completed Blue Ribbon Panel on Water Sustainability.
A: This was a major milestone for water management in Arizona. Forty different groups — Native Americans, municipalities, industries and government agencies, among others — spent all of 2010 in working groups and produced a five-part plan covering public perception, regulations, infrastructure, conservation and funding. Some key goals are to get the public to accept recycled water as safe, streamline regulations for reuse of water, explore new systems and the retrofitting of old systems, reduce energy costs associated with water reclamation, introduce new incentives for conserving and recycling, and make conservation economically viable by reducing fees wherever possible.
Q: What is your relationship with the Arizona Golf Association vis a vis golf community issues and water conservation in particular?
A: They are an important partner in helping us shape our water management objectives, like the Blue Ribbon Panel on Water Sustainability. We always bring them in to provide analysis of a problem or feedback on how something we’re planning will affect them. Conversely, we try to be there for them with information on technical or regulatory matters. When they hold their meetings, we are frequently asked to speak on water topics; I’ve presented a number of times over the years. Or, we will run workshops for them on specific issues. Annually, I’d say we meet with them twice a year. We also provide financial assistance (funded by fees water users pay) for studies relevant to the golf industry; for example, meteorological experts at the University of Arizona share data on current and long-range weather patterns with course superintendents so they can more efficiently anticipate irrigation needs.
Q: A June 2010 article in The Arizona Republic stated that the Phoenix City Council was working on a new plan to help golf courses continue to reduce water usage. How does your department work with local municipalities regarding golf course consumption?
A: We don’t intrude. It’s up to local governments to deal with costs. But, we do watch to see they don’t exceed their basic requirements. We are all in sync on the need to conserve.
Q: Will water regulations inhibit more golf courses from coming online?
A: Thus far, it hasn’t seemed so. While we provide the structure for water management, it is up to the golf club or resort to identify a municipal or private water source and prove they have 100 years of water.
Q: What is your long-term vision for golf courses in Arizona.
A: ADWR wants to see the development and maintenance of top-quality courses that produce significant revenue for the state. Our philosophy says responsible water management leads to economic growth.