Committee advances bill curbing golf course irrigation
House lawmakers are considering a measure that would conserve the island's finite supply of water by banning new golf courses that only use drinkable water to green their greens.
"As a golfer, I really like golf courses. But we have to make a policy decision. And, sorry folks, we need the water," said Rep. Ezra Kanoho (D, Wailua-Koloa), chairman of the Water, Land and Ocean Resources Committee.
House Bill 2184, signed by 29 members of the House and advanced out of committee Monday, would require any golf course approved after Jan. 1, 2007, to install a water system that includes both drinkable and non-drinkable water. That means that a developer could not build his golf course if he planned to lavish the course's rolling hills of grass with the same type of water that people drink.
To make limited supplies of water go further, a number of golf courses and large public spaces across the country -- including Koele Golf Course on Lanai -- use surface water and treated wastewater, or sewage, to quench the thirst of their plants and fill their landscaped ponds.
The state Commission on Water Resource Management said existing rules already support the intent of the bill. The commission is responsible for allocating the water held in the state's aquifers, which is the source of drinking water.
According to the rules, the commission "may require the use of dual line water supply systems in new industrial and commercial developments."
However, Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R, Kaneohe-Kailua) said lawmakers aren't seeking to allow the commission the choice. They want to mandate the use of only undrinkable water on the courses.
Dean Nakano, acting deputy director of the commission, said the Legislature may run into jurisdictional problems with their proposed law because the commission has power only over designated water management areas -- which include most of Oahu, all of Molokai and a section of Maui.
Maui already has put in place a similar local law for its new courses, Nakano said. Of Oahu's 36 golf courses, 27 now use potable water, he said.
Shannon Wood, of the Windward Ahupuaa Alliance, said that she would like to see a version of the proposed law extended to existing golf course, with possibly a tax credit for those who convert over to non-drinkable water.
"We have so many golf courses over on Windward Oahu and it doesn't always rain there," she said.
Rep. Brian Schatz, the vice chairman of the committee and author of the bill, said he doesn't think it will be a problem to put together a law that will cover the entire state.
Schatz (D, Tantalus-Makiki) said he decided to submit the bill after the state in October approved the irrigation plan for two new golf courses on former plantation land in Waiawa.
The plan by Waiawa Development LLC includes using 1 million gallons in ground water a day for the courses slated to be the center of a new 3,700-acre community. The courses would be required to use recycled water once a system becomes available for it to tap into. That system is expected in about six years.