Back to the future

By |  May 18, 2015 0 Comments

jacksonLast summer I wrote about the complex water regulatory system in California and since then Gov. Jerry Brown went to the mountaintop and discovered much to his surprise that he couldn’t even build a snowman because of the skimpy snow pack! He came down from the mountains and ordered a 25 percent reduction in water use.

The governor may be surprised to learn that some water management districts had already surpassed that number and were at the 30-plus percentile level.

Since I was returning to California in April, I contacted Jeff Jensen, GCSAA’s Southwest regional representative, to see if he could recommend a local superintendent I might visit to discuss the water issues facing golf courses. Jeff recommended that I contact J. Ryan Bentley, superintendent at the 27-hole, North Ranch Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Bentley is engaged in a “turf reduction and landscape restoration” project that will remove around 40 acres of maintained turf from the 106 acres of rough, reducing water use 40-50 percent in those areas. Once the new plant material matures and the irrigation run times can be reduced, the club expects to see close to a 70-percent reduction of overall water use.

Bentley said, “The club realized that water conservation was the future of the club, and they began conservation planning for the past 10 years. They began with reducing potable water use by paying to hook up to a reclaimed water source. The only areas using potable water for irrigation are around the clubhouse and the practice tee.”

But as the water crisis grew and more facilities were switching to reclaimed water, the cost has doubled in the past seven years. The club is now planning to install three wells to blend groundwater with the reclaimed water to moderate rising costs.

Every conservation action and project the club undertakes has to be reviewed and approved by three water authorities: the LA Water District, CAL Water — the club’s primary purveyor — and MET Water, another regional authority. Bentley says they have been great partners in supporting their water use reduction plans. The club has applied for the MET Water District’s Turf Rebate Program, which will help defray some of the up-front costs.

Bentley showed me “The Wall” in the clubhouse, where he posts the annual USGA Turf Advisory Service report, and schematics of each hole showing the color-coded areas that will be converted to naturalized areas. They are designated as “high, medium or low density,” referring to the amount of plant material that will be installed. The low- to-medium-density areas are close to potential “in play” areas and the high-density plantings will be around tees and definite “out of play” areas. There are also photos and descriptions of all the plant material that will be used in the converted areas.

With the focus on water conservation, Bentley assigns one irrigation technician for each of the 9-hole courses. Each tech spends 40-50 hours per week monitoring moisture levels, scouting for hot spots, testing heads and controllers, hand watering, adjusting run times daily and watering newly installed landscape plants.

Beside the obvious turf-reduction areas, Bentley is also on a mission to restore the natural areas that neighbor the golf course by removing invasive trees and plants and replacing them with native plants.

Bentley said he is not alone in the effort to be part of the water conservation solution, “At the last Southern California GCSA chapter meeting, at least 10 other courses said they were also engaged in turf reduction projects. Several of them were not under demanding cut backs, but were doing the projects simply because ‘it was the right thing to do.’”

I was impressed with the club’s vision, the members’ support and Bentley’s relentless attention to detail and his personal enthusiasm for the projects. They get it! Bentley noted that work is under way in each region to develop BMPs for water use and conservation. The future of California is all about water, and they are doing something about it!

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