Friday, September 23, 2005

Water Woes: Spanish Golfers Demand Green Fairways as Farms Go Without Water

(Bloomberg) -- At a golf course in the shadow of Mount Abantos outside Madrid, near a 16th century monastery built by King Felipe II, Francisco Contreras swings his club, frowning as he sees dry patches of yellow on the green fairways.
``I'd much rather the course were green; it looks ugly when it's yellow,'' says the 37-year-old partner at a Madrid-based building company and a regular at the La Herreria course in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, 35 miles northwest of Madrid. ``Golf helps me relax. It also oils the wheels of business.''
Just a stone's throw away, Inmaculada Preciado, owner of El Chicharron, a farm, says she's out of grass to feed her 200 cows because of the lack of rain. ``We're stretched to the limit,'' the 42-year-old farmer says. ``The golf course is much greener than the farm. I'm not sure where their water comes from.''
Spain's worst drought in more than 50 years is pitting golfers against farmers and ecologists. The shortage of rain water is threatening to dry up fairways at the country's golf courses, prompting some resorts to siphon off drinking-water to keep them green and safeguard $1.2 billion in tourism revenue generated by the golf industry.
``It's atrocious so many courses in Madrid are using drinking water,'' said Santiago Martin, a spokesman for Ecologists in Action, a Madrid-based lobby group, in phone interview. ``The situation is similar across Spain.''
Ten of Madrid's 29 courses face fines and at least two more on the southern coast known as the Costa del Sol are being investigated. The Confederacion Hidrografica del Tajo, which controls water usage in and around Madrid, declined to identify the courses or the likely size of the fines.
Drying Reservoirs
The drought is most severe in the central and southeastern parts of the country, which had less than 250 millimeters of rain in the 12 months through Aug. 31, half the average in the last 30 years, Spain's National Meteorological Institute says.
Courses in those areas need about 350,000 cubic meters (92.5 million gallons) of water a year, said Francisco Aymerich, chairman of Aymerich Golf Management, which manages 17 courses. That's as much as the annual use of 7,800 city dwellers, according to Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute.
Water levels in reservoirs fell below the half-way mark and capacity is as low as 13 percent in parts of southern Spain, the Environment Ministry said in an Aug. 30 statement.
The government, in an advertising campaign, is urging water- saving techniques including turning off the tap when brushing teeth. Golf courses and private gardens face water restrictions if it doesn't rain more, Environment Minister Cristina Narbona told the Senate on Sept. 14.
`Easy Target'
``Golf is an easy target when there's a drought,'' said Miguel Angel Caderot, a spokesman for the Spanish Golf Federation, in a phone interview Aug. 31. ``It's seen by some people in Spain as elitist. But they should remember the economic benefits: tourism and jobs.''
At issue is the failure of Spanish golf courses to keep up with developments in water-treatment technology, said Sylvain Duval, an expert in golf course maintenance for Murcia, Spain- based company Polaris World. The company manages five tourist resorts in the country.
Polaris is among a handful of Spanish course owners that have in the last five years started watering grass with treated sea water. In the U.S, that has been happening for two decades and in Florida it's obligatory, Duval said.
Only two Madrid courses use recycled drinking water, which is the ideal means of keeping courses green, said Rocio Pattier, a spokeswoman for Confederacion Hidrografica del Tajo, the Madrid region water authority.
Recycled Water
``Most courses in Madrid were built a long time ago and haven't updated their infrastructure,'' said the Spanish golf federation's Caderot. ``Using recycled water is the way forward.''
About 20 of the 35 courses near south-coast city Malaga use recycled water, Alvaro Gonzalez, a spokesman for that region's water authority said. The authority is investigating two courses after discovering the ``large volume'' of water they're using, Gonzalez said.
A course near the southwest city of Cadiz was fined 60,000 euros ($74,025) in May 2004 for using water illegally for three years, said Ecologists in Action's Martin.


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