From effluent water to gravity-fed irrigation systems, golf course superintendents are finding a variety of ways to contain water costs and usage.
Taking the lead in water-conservation efforts and promoting environmental stewardship has become the norm for most golf course superintendents. To adjust their irrigation practices accordingly, they often rely on resourcefulness and forward-thinking initiatives to rein in water costs and usage.
Some properties turn to effluent water to irrigate their golf courses. Others take advantage of their terrain by installing a gravity-fed irrigation system. Regardless of the methods they adopt—and the changes that come with them—water conservation efforts are here to stay.
|SUMMING IT UP
Hoarding the Gold
Ratliff Ranch Golf Links in Odessa, Texas, has been using effluent water for about 20 years. Its PGA Head Golf Professional and Manager, Chris McQuatters, believes golf courses will have to find cheaper water sources, such as effluent, to continue to survive and thrive.
“It’s a no-brainer,” he says. “Water is more valuable than gold.” That holds especially true in areas like Odessa, where the average annual rainfall is 12 inches or less.
The effluent water supply at Ratliff Ranch is pumped from the city treatment plant to a holding irrigation lake on the golf course. “It basically came down to dollars and cents,” notes McQuatters. “We’re in the desert, and it helps to conserve potable water.”
The city, which already owned the land, bought the Ratliff Ranch amenities in 2006, and the course, built in 1988, was closed until 2008 for upgrades. Improvements included rebuilding two greens that had drainage issues and installing a state-of-the-art irrigation system.
“We added 800 heads to expand the irrigated portion of the course,” reports McQuatters. “We wanted to provide better and broader landing areas, and we widened the fairways and rough areas.”
About 125 of 200 total acres are now irrigated, he says. The course renovations added 10 to 12 acres that have to be maintained and irrigated, but the use of effluent water has helped the grounds staff keep water usage and costs under control.
Valuable County Lines
Desert Rose Golf Course in Las Vegas has irrigated with effluent water, supplied by the Clark County Water Reclamation District, since 1995.
“Effluent water is more cost-effective in total outputs, and we’re doing our part with environmental stewardship by preserving the potable water for residential use,” notes Golf Course Superintendent John Lanier.
The property has a potable greens loop that irrigates the clubhouse grounds and roughly three acres of greens complexes. However, Lanier says, “We are in the process of converting our potable greens loop back to effluent, to reduce costs and the property’s carbon footprint.”
Desert Rose tries to reduce its total water output by 10 to 20 percent annually, says Lanier. “As with most desert courses, irrigation is usually one of the highest line items in the budget,” he adds.
Newport Dunes Golf Club in Port Aransas, Texas, has irrigated with effluent water under a contractual agreement with the Nueces County Water District since the golf course opened in September 2008.
“The sheer economics of it make it more attractive,” reports Certified Golf Course Superintendent Jim Brown. “We save $400,000 a year in just water costs by using effluent.” The salt-tolerant seashore paspalum turf on the golf course makes the use of effluent water a good fit for the property, he adds.
Staying Flush, and Lush
Although the use of effluent water reduces costs and a property’s carbon footprint, it can also create challenges.
“The effluent water we get is pretty filtered,” says McQuatters. “It can be high in pH, but it’s close to being drinkable because of the filtering process.”
Salt can build up on the greens, he adds, but a gypsum flush once a month or every three weeks can alleviate that problem. Sometimes the crew has to apply gypsum on the fairways as well. “As long as we’re flushing, we can stay lush,” notes McQuatters.
According to Brown, it is better for effluent water to be used to irrigate golf courses than to go into rivers or streams.
“We can maintain quality conditions without using a lot of inputs to monitor water quality,” he reports. “Effluent water can have issues with salt content, and it typically is high in nitrogen. Phosphates can be an issue as well. For the facility, it’s also changed our agronomic program as it relates to nutrients. We’re getting a nutrient supply in the water we receive.”
Desert Rose has experienced some of the same challenges as the Texas properties. “Monitoring the salts and other bicarbonates come with effluent water usage, as well as excessive nitrogen and controlling the growth of the plant,” Lanier explains. “Once we reach our threshold with salt accumulation on our greens, we apply gypsum and flush the greens, to move the salts through the profile.
“We deal with the challenges through daily soil monitoring and increased aerification within our grow season,” he adds. “We also apply a preventative fungicide plan during the winter months, to combat diseases derived from elevated salt levels.”
Effluent water usage also can require additional technology, that Desert Rose uses, such as TDS (total dissolved solids) meters to measure soil salinity, soil moisture meters, and quarterly discharge monitoring reports.
Newport Dunes added filters to its pump station to eliminate debris from the water. Along with its recycled water and closed-loop irrigation system, the property also uses weather station technology and soil sensors, which measure the salt content and percentage of moisture in the soil. The weather stations provide daily evapotranspiration readings to the irrigation system’s computer controller, which then downloads data to each individual sprinkler head.
“It tells us how long to run a particular head to put out the amount of water we need,” says Brown. “The soil sensors reduce that number by an additional 25 percent.”
Because effluent water is high is soluble nitrates, Newport Dunes, located on a barrier island between the Gulf of Mexico and the Laguna Madre bay system, installed perforated pipes to keep the nitrates from entering the adjacent bodies of water.
“Any water that goes past the root zone to a depth of five feet is captured and pumped back to the storage tank,” Brown reveals. “That keeps the water on the property, and makes it unlikely to escape into the water table.”
The golf course also complies with Texas Commission on Environmental Quality mandates, which state that golf courses using effluent water can only irrigate at night. The crew cannot irrigate when any members of the public are on the facility, and staff members also have to perform weekly tests for health pathogens.
McQuatters says Ratliff Ranch’s effluent water supply is consistent throughout the year, and the maintenance crew can combat any issues by controlling the frequency of watering. “In this climate, we don’t have a lot of problems with fungus that other courses have in more humid climates,” he adds.
Desert Rose houses its effluent water in a two-surface-acre pond on the second hole. “We can store enough water to get us through three days at 118 degrees during the summer months,” reports Lanier. “If we ever start to run low, we can open up the flow meter to replenish our supply.”
Newport Dunes stores its effluent water in a holding tank that has a capacity of about one million gallons. Since Port Aransas is a tourist town, the water supply varies from season to season. However, that fluctuation has not created difficulties for the property. “Our supply is greater in the summer than in the winter, and that correlates with our usage, too,” explains Brown.
Letting Nature Take Its Course
The Reserve at Moonlight Basin in Big Sky, Mont., has adopted a different approach to water conservation with a closed-loop, gravity-fed irrigation system.
The system pumps water from nearby Lone Creek and fills a couple of irrigation water reservoirs in the spring with enough water to last through the golf season from the first week of June until early or mid-October. From the reservoirs, the water is gravity-fed down Lone Mountain to the golf course, where the back nine of its 18 holes have been completed.
Golf Course Superintendent Mike Wilcynski calls this system a “more efficient, greener approach” that eliminates the need for a power source to pump water to the golf course. By using an irrigation system that relies on gravity rather than pump stations, he explains, “You rule out any issues with power sources affecting your irrigation window. It’s really been bullet-proof so far.”
The system includes a pump station at the diversion site at the creek, and a high-density polyethylene pipeline that runs up the mountain.
“We try to be as efficient as possible when we water, and we also do a lot of hand-watering,” notes Wilcynski. “We try to pinpoint the accuracy of our applications. The golf course plays best when it’s firm and fast.”
A Viable Option
McQuatters feels that other golf courses with the means to use effluent water should consider it. “The golf course is the best place to put effluent water,” he explains. “You’re not hurting it, and it’s filtered into the eco-system.”
While there may be some initial costs involved with getting the water piped to a course, he says cost savings and the reduced carbon footprint make the effort worthwhile.
“Out here in the desert, most superintendents understand the importance of water and how it impacts the budget,” agrees Lanier. “So if you’re looking to do the right thing and reduce your carbon footprint, then effluent water is a viable option.”
Because Newport Dunes is located on a barrier island, Brown says residents are committed to environmental initiatives such as using effluent water.
“More people see it as an underutilized resource,” he adds. “It creates income for municipalities, so it’s a win-win situation.
“The return on investment has always been an issue with capital outlays, but the payback on it is less than eight years,” Brown notes. “We’ve decreased our water usage by 25 percent. It has had a real bottom-line effect, from electricity to the water we’re consuming.”
When Newport Dunes Golf Club in Port Aransas, Texas, was under construction 5 1/2 years ago, Certified Golf Course Superintendent Jim Brown says members of the barrier island community initially greeted the project with skepticism, criticism and fear, because of the stigma sometimes associated with golf courses.
“We had to get the truth out there, and we invited all parties that had issues to review our practices and facility,” says Brown. “We included them in the process. We wanted them to see how the golf course benefits the community from an environmental standpoint.”
The discussions have continued since the golf course opened in 2008. “We do a lot of community outreach with the residents and participate in a lot of educational opportunities with grade-school kids, to keep the public informed,” says Brown.
Mike Wilcynski, Golf Course Superintendent at The Reserve at Moonlight Basin in Big Sky, Mont., shares information about irrigation and other golf course maintenance practices with members whenever he gets a chance.
“Informing them of how we do things and why we do things a certain way is critical,” he believes. “Certain members are savvy and in tune with how golf courses are operated and maintained, and they have questions for me directly.”
He takes advantage of casual conversations or socializing opportunities to talk to other members about maintenance strategies.
John Lanier, Golf Course Superintendent at Desert Rose Golf Course in Las Vegas, believes irrigation practices reflects the superintendent’s commitment to environmental stewardship.
“If anything, we’ve proven to the public that we can be good environmental stewards by using effluent water and cutting total water usage,” he says.