The Lodge at Ventana Canyon Golf and Racquet Club’s Wally Dowe discusses the ebbs and flows of irrigating golf courses with recycled water.
While members and resort guests alternate play on the “course of the day” at the two 18-hole golf courses at The Lodge at Ventana Canyon Golf and Racquet Club in Tucson, Ariz., one practice has remained constant since construction of the golf courses began in 1983. Tucson Water supplies the property with recycled, or effluent, water. And the maintenance staff uses that recycled water exclusively on the entire golf course, says Wally Dowe, Director of Golf Course Maintenance.
The Lodge at Ventana Canyon Golf and Racquet Club
Club Website: www.ventanacanyonclub.com
Designer: Tom Fazio
Type: Private and semi-resort
# of Members: About 500 golfing members; about 800 total members
Annual Rounds: 75,000
Year Opened: 1984
Golf Season: Year-round
Fairways: Bermuda; overseeded with perennial rye grass
Greens: MiniVerde Ultra Dwarf Bermudagrass
Honors and Awards: The Mountain and Canyon golf courses at The Lodge at Ventana Canyon Golf and Racquet Club have won a number of awards including:
Golfweek, 100 Best Resort Courses – Mountain Course #38, Canyon Course #85, 2007
Golf Magazine, Golf Medal, America’s Best Resorts, 2001, 2000
Golf & Travel, 40 Best Resort Courses, 2000
Golf Magazine, Silver Medal, 2000-1994, 1992, 1990
Links Magazine, Top 50 Golf Courses, 1997, 1995
Conde Nast Traveler, Top 25 Best Golf Resorts, 1997
Golfweek, One of America’s Best Golf Courses – Mountain Course, 1996, 1994-1992; Canyon Course, 1996, 1994, 1993
Golf Digest, Arizona’s Best Resort Course, 1995
The Ventana Canyon courses are two of 18 golf courses–and about 900 sites altogether (including parks, schools and single-family homes)–in the area that use recycled city water for irrigation. According to the water company, its recycled water customers saved 5.5 billion gallons of drinking water, enough for 59,000 families for a year, in 2009.
Wally recently spoke to us about his experience with the use of recycled water and offered some recommendations to other superintendents who might consider using effluent water as well.
Q: What are the benefits of irrigating with recycled water?
A: Environmentally it is the right thing to do. Ground water is very important to future generations. We need to be looking at how our actions today will affect tomorrow for many generations to come. Restrictions on usage are less than potable water. Depending on the area or region, if potable water is available, recycled water will typically cost less. However, putting the infrastructure in place for recycled water can be very expensive.
Q: What are the drawbacks of using recycled water?
A: Effluent water has higher levels of sodium, bicarbonates and nitrates. Over time the increase in sodium and bicarbonates can destroy soil structure, which can make it very difficult to grow quality turfgrass. Effluent water, due to the high nutrient load, has an increase in algae, protozoa and filamentous algae growth. This leads to clogged heads and stuck heads running longer than needed, which wastes water and increases water costs. Algae growth can increase costs with the need to purchase additional chemicals to control algae as well as the need for additional lake equipment such as fountains/aerators and bubblers. Extra nitrogen in the recycled water can cause challenges if you’re growing bentgrass during hot/humid periods. Extra nitrogen makes it difficult to control top growth on bentgrass greens. This leads to an increase in puffiness, and the end result is scalping from the mowers.
Q: How have you solved any problems that have resulted from using recycled water?
A: Solved would not be the correct word. But, through trial and error, we have been able to manage the challenges that are associated with using recycled water. Increases in algae issues have been managed by using chemicals on a preventative measure as well as adding lake fountains and bubblers in the lakes. The fountains keep the water moving so it does get stagnant. The bubblers increase the oxygen in the water, which reduces algae growth.
We have recently installed three new Rainbird pump stations with a filtration system. The filtration system has greatly reduced the number of stuck heads. The filters require cleaning two times per year.
Q: How often do you test your water quality, and what type of testing do you do?
A: Water is tested monthly. The monthly test is a basic water test. We mainly focus on the bicarbonate and sodium levels. Monitoring the water and soil test results allows us to adjust our management strategies to decrease bicarbonate and sodium levels before they become a bigger issue. We will increase aerification and/or calcium applications based upon the results of the tests.
A: We have to ensure containment in the lakes, which do not allow water to leave the property. We are required to submit annual water use permits as well as annual water usage reports.
Q: Are you required to purchase a certain amount of water annually, and if so, how do you store the water you don’t need right away?
A: No limits. Water is stored in irrigation lakes, which are lined. We are not required to purchase a certain amount of water.
Q: How do your current water costs compare to your water costs before you started using recycled water?
A: Over the last few years, Tucson Water has increased the water rate approximately 7 percent each year. We currently spend approximately $500,000 per year for water. Water usage is approximately 900 acre feet per year, or approximately 300 million gallons of effluent water per year.
Q: What kind of restrictions do you have on your recycled water usage?
A: Tucson Water requires posting proper signage at all water retention lakes. The signage states that this facility uses effluent water to irrigate the golf course.
Q: What kind of infrastructure adjustments did you have to make to use recycled water?
A: The infrastructure was planned and installed during construction of the golf courses in the early 1980s.
A: Yes; use of potable water on the golf course is not an option.
Q: What kind of advice would you give to other superintendents who are considering the use of recycled water?
A: Be sure the water source is reliable and able to supply the amount of water you will need, especially during high demand periods such as summer or during overseeding in the Southwest desert. Be sure proper infrastructure is in place for the long term.
Negotiate annual rate increases in the beginning and include a “not to exceed annual increase” clause. Have a guideline established of not-to-exceed nutrient levels such as sodium, bicarbonates, nitrates, etc. Require the water supplier to conduct regular independent water tests and make the results are available for your review.
Q: Is the nutrient load/level in the water consistent? Eliminate peaks and valleys.
A: Budget an increase for fertilizer, gypsum and calcium supplements to manage sodium and bicarbonates levels in the soil. Be prepared for a budget increase for chemicals to control algae.
Consider adding fountains and/or lake aerators to increase oxygen in the lakes, which will decrease algae growth. Consider acid injection or sulfur burners to manage sodium and bicarbonate levels in the water.
Ensure proper drainage. Any low areas where water accumulates will have sodium and/or bicarbonate buildup over time. Water requirements or usage may increase as the need to flush the soil profile will be required.
Consider a filtration system on the pump station, and be prepared to increase aerification.