While the Rams Hill Country Club needs water to bring its 18-hole golf course back from the desert, where that water will come from is under negotiations.
The Borrego Springs golf course has been dry since July 2011, because the previous ownership did not pay its ever-more costly water bill.
About 350 homes built have been built in Rams Hill over the past 40 years, but the property has repeatedly stalled since the early 1980s.
Plans ultimately call for about 1,000 more lots and a 300-room hotel, but a resurrected golf course is the first priority.
To fulfill the plan, the course will need 800 acre feet at the outset. An acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre 1-foot deep, and also roughly equivalent to what two families of four use in a year.
A problem is that Rams Hill is a high point on the Anza-Borrego Desert floor, and the water level in the aquifer has been dropping, leaving current ownership to seek lower sources in the valley.
As for where those sources are, it appears much of it may come from two present and past grove properties owned by Jack McGrory, former San Diego city manager and owner of the nearby Casa del Zorro resort.
Rams Hill is owned by T2Holding LLC of Denver. T2, is an entity controlled by Terry Considine of The Considine Cos., who also heads the Aimco apartment investment firm. Local investor Bill Berkley is part of the ownership as well.
Late last year and into 2014, the Borrego Water District and T2 Holding crafted a settlement agreement whereby the Colorado company would either buy parcels of land now occupied by grapefruit orchards, olives, ornamental palm trees or other desert plants; or acquire the water rights, or wells, that come with the properties.
McGrory bought four farms comprising about 1,000 acres in and around Borrego Springs last June.
McGrory -- who isn't the only Borrego Springs owner who has been approached -- said he paid a total of $1.55 million to acquire the 250-acre Roadrunner Nursery, the 100-acre Coggan Ranch, the 500-acre Evans Ranch property and the 150-acre Cocopah Nursery, packaged at a trustee's sale last year in Arizona.
McGrory says the price was a bargain given the plants alone are valued from $7 million to $8 million, to say nothing of the water.
"We control six wells overall. That's a lot of water rights," McGrory said, adding that as the owner of Casa del Zorro, which borders Rams Hill, it is in his interest to make the course green once more.
McGrory is in ongoing discussions with Rams Hill's owners to see what kind of a deal might be struck to sell the water rights and/or the land at the Cocopah and the Evans Ranch nurseries.
The Evans Ranch, once home to grapes planted by DiGiorgio family decades ago, has reverted to desert. The DiGiogio family founded Rams Hill in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
McGrory plans to keep the Roadrunner Nursery and Coggan Ranch as ongoing concerns.
"Evans Ranch would be a perfect site for a solar farm," McGrory said.
The Cocopah Nursery's well is mentioned in the settlement agreement as a critical component to bring the water to Rams Hill.
That property, which sells palm trees and olives, along with thousands of acres of other Cocopah nurseries owned in California and Arizona, were plagued with huge defaulted loans.
Bloomberg News reported that Rabobank N.A. was owed some $70 million and another $65 million was owed to Wells Fargo Bank.
Cocopah was selling some of its Borrego land before McGrory came along.
In December 2011, the grower sold more than 300 acres along the south side of Henderson Canyon Road for $3.82 million to NRG Solar Borrego I for a 26-megawatt solar generating facility.
Indio-based Cocopah, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in July 2012 before its Borrego Springs property was sold to McGrory last year to help pay off creditors.
To satisfy Rams Hill's needs, Jerry Rolwing, Borrego Water District general manager, said 163 acres of citrus will need to be taken out of production, plus the water equivalent of irrigating about 216 acres of ornamental palms.
There are approximately 2,345 acres of citrus in the valley today and 852 acres of palms .
Some long-term growers aren't interested in selling their water or land.
Jim Seley of Seley Ranches, whose family has owned about 400 acres of grapefruit orchards in Borrego Springs for three generations, said Rams Hill can find its water elsewhere.
Berkley said he and Considine had been working on the settlement agreement with the Borrego Water District long before they acquired Rams Hill, expects to wrap up the sales that will facilitate the water transfers before the end of 2014.
"The homeowners [at Rams Hill] are ecstatic," Berkley said. "We're hoping to open the restaurant next month and the golf course next November."
Berkley said homeowners long weary of the brown course also have agreed to levy themselves an additional $100 per month to help bring the water to Rams Hill.
Berkley said just because the golf course will get the water doesn't mean it will use the 1,200 acre feet per year it used prior to the course's closure. The plan is to bring the figure down to 800 and then to as little as 500 acre feet per year.
As for how Rams Hill will save so much water, Berkley said to start with, 68 acres of landscaping around the course that uses about 300 acre feet per year, will stop being irrigated.
"We are also installing a very sophisticated irrigation system," Berkley continued. "The fairways are going to be hot and dry during the summer; we're not going to over-seed and we'll let portions of the course go dormant as well."