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Dairy Creek Golf Course running out of money and water

Tanny Koeppel, Louise McCoy and Mary Pollock, (from left) on the 11th green at Dairy Creek. The golf course is receiving less water for irrigation from the California Men’s Colony prison, which is causing much of the golf course to turn brown. Only the greens are watered regularly.
Tanny Koeppel, Louise McCoy and Mary Pollock, (from left) on the 11th green at Dairy Creek. The golf course is receiving less water for irrigation from the California Men’s Colony prison, which is causing much of the golf course to turn brown. Only the greens are watered regularly. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

A combination of drought conditions and a reduced inmate population at the California Men’s Colony has left the county’s Dairy Creek Golf Course critically short of water and golfers.

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday told parks staff to explore a variety of options for continued operation of the Dairy Creek course, including installing a water storage pond at the course and investing up to $485,000 in general fund revenues annually to keep the course open.

“This board is going to have to step up,” Supervisor Bruce Gibson said. “Golf teaches us a set of values and offers an athletic opportunity.”

The golf course is short of water because it uses recycled water from the prison. Prison realignment has reduced the inmate population at the California Men’s Colony from 7,000 to 4,000, said Nick Franco, county parks director. Both the California Men’s Colony and Dairy Creek Golf Course are on Highway 1 west of San Luis Obispo. The prison provides much of the water for government offices in the Chorro Valley.

“Dairy Creek Golf Course is now operating with 45 percent of the water that is required for desirable quality conditions expected by golfers,” Franco said.

The golf course has a shortfall of 142 acre-feet of water, which is causing the course to turn brown and prompting complaints from golfers of poor golfing conditions.

As a result, the rounds of golf have dropped by 29 percent and revenue is down 39 percent. The golf program is running a deficit of more than half a million dollars and will run out of money by the end of the 2016-17 fiscal year.

Several options exist for supplemental water. One of these is the construction of a water pond, which would cost about $1.2 million. The golf course already has three ponds, which are used for water storage and are filled by rainfall.

Another option is to purchase as much as 100 acre-feet of water from Whale Rock Reservoir near Cayucos. The public urged supervisors to do what is necessary to keep the course open.

“Since its opening in 1997, Dairy Creek Golf Course has provided an excellent recreational resource to county golfers of all ages as well as being a draw for out-of-county visitors,” said former County Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald.

Dairy Creek is one of three county-owned golf courses. The others are Morro Bay Golf Course and Chalk Mountain Golf Course in Atascadero. Together, the golf courses have an annual operating budget of $2.7 million.

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