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California Golf Course Industry Defends Economic Vitality as Drought Woes Intensify

For one industry vital to California's booming tourism, the growing drought problems and looming state-issued water restrictions may have more than a superficial impact.

Instead of the lush, vivid green grass that comes to mind when picturing a round of golf in the Golden State, dry, patchy hills and sparsely populated courses are what the industry fears.

As the top state for tourism in the U.S., California generated $117 billion in tourism revenue during 2014 alone. With nearly 900 courses scattered throughout the state, golf yields a substantial amount of that economic impact.

To preserve their stature in such arid conditions, California golf courses are on the defensive.

Boasting the industry's strong economic ties to communities, California golf courses hope that water restrictions will work in their favor and allow them to maintain their well-manicured appeal with cooperation.

In a response to California Gov. Jerry Brown's call for water restrictions after a record-low snowpack, the California Golf Course Owners Association (CGCOA) released a statement in defense of the importance of the golf industry even in dire drought conditions.

"We urge water providers to respond to the Governor's Order in a manner that strikes a balance between the need to conserve and the need to maintain course conditions that preserve the benefits of golf courses to their communities," the association wrote.

Even while distributing resources to almost 900 courses, golf courses are responsible for less than 1 percent of the state's water usage.

A total of 128,000 workers not only depend on the success of the various courses for their livelihood but also create "a statewide economic impact exceeding $13 billion," CGCOA stated.

Still, the CGCOA urges courses to continue to use innovating techniques in order to keep operations going and relationships with government officials friendly. With one-third of courses already using reclaimed water, the release stated that efforts will be made to increase the number of courses using the alternative source.

Reclaimed water, or recycled water, has long been used for landscaping, agriculture and at golf courses across the country.

"Unfortunately, a lack of infrastructure to the courses stands in the way, as does, in some cases, bureaucracy," Marc Connerly, CGCOA executive director, said. "For example, we currently are trying to assist a course that has the infrastructure [to a reclaimed water source] but cannot connect to the reclaimed water source because the state agencies regulating water quality are creating roadblocks."

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, wastewater is recycled in a more efficient, less expensive manner to be used for non-consumption purposes like golf greens.

Gov. Brown called out golf courses in his April 1 executive order, stating that commercial and industrial properties must "immediately implement water efficiency measures to reduce potable water usage."

However, the degree of such measures was not specified, only stating that it must be an amount consistent with the 25 percent reduction in urban potable water.

Still, Connerly understood the severity and perhaps inevitable nature of the historic drought.

"There will come a point at which revenue will be lost," he said, noting conditions will vary from course to course.

In order to prevent or delay that from happening as well as appease water conservation regulations from the government, courses have implemented a plethora of scientific and strategic water-reducing efforts.

From in-house weather stations to scheduled waterings to reducing sprinklers from full-circle to part-circle, various resolutions have already been put into operation.