Thursday, October 27, 2005

Water Rights

I wouldn't have guessed that the Austin Chronicle would be a good place to find a story about golf, but there it was: a story about the water fight of which The Golf Club of Circle C finds itself in the middle.

Water issues are only going to become more and more pressing for golf courses, as they become more and more pressing for cities in drier climes all over Texas and the other parts of the U.S. When drought measures are adopted, golf courses - guzzling huge quantities of the precious liquid - are often among the first targets aimed at by conservationists. Rightly so, in my opinion. As Golf Digest course critic Ron Whitten has written, golf courses in the Southwest and West are going to have to start being built to different standards, and golfers are going to have to accept those standards: water to keep the greens alive, but let Mother Nature take care of (or not) the rest of the course. Play 'em hard and fast and save the water for more important uses.

The Golf Club at Circle C came up with a plan that it felt was eco-friendly and would save water that otherwise would come from other sources. It would capture rainwater, "store" it in an irrigation pond that would be so large as to qualify as a reservoir (water it would share with three neighboring developments), then take the water back out when needed for the course. This way, Circle C would drastically cut the amount of water it had to pump from the City of Austin's water supply.

But Texas has some byzantine laws when it comes to water rights. I'm not saying the laws are wrong; I don't know enough about them to make a judgement on that. But they are definitely complicated.

The Austin Chronicle explained the problems Circle C has run into with its plan:

The state officially owns all the surface water in Texas; entities wanting to use this water must apply for a state permit. The golf club's permit application deals with storm water, which is a bit of a fuzzy area in water law. The Texas Water Code includes storm water, rainwater, and floodwater within its definition of "state water"; however, the law has been interpreted to mean that these waters don't become a state resource until they flow into a body of water like a lake or a stream. In other words, a bucket of rainwater is yours. If you pour that water into a stream, it becomes state property. With its new irrigation system, the golf club essentially wants to collect a big bucket of rainwater, pour it in a streambed, and then take it back out again.

...

LCRA's associate general counsel, Lyn Dean, argued in a letter to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that the golf club's permit raises "potentially significant issues of precedent regarding the determination of when storm waters become 'state water.' " ... The LCRA's argument is based on the fact that the golf club plans to use a dry creek bed called Danz Creek to move the storm water into the SARISP (Southwest Austin Regional Irrigation Storage Pond, what the Circle C reservoir would be called). The LCRA points out that once water goes into a streambed, it belongs to the state. (Circle C general manager Chip) Gist, on the other hand, says the storm water is private water that wouldn't even be in Danz Creek in the first place if the Circle C irrigation system hadn't put it there – it would be sitting in three little detention ponds. "Way I see it, we're creating more state water," Gist
said.

It's a very interesting article. Go check it out.

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