Even during the infamous drought of 2011, passers-by on FM 1960 marveled at how the fairways at Northgate Country Club managed to stay so green and lush. Had they known that not a drop of potable drinking water was used to keep them that way, they would have appreciated them even more.

Established during the mid-1980’s, the facility has earned a reputation for being a well maintained community venue for recreation and local events. In 2005, the Club’s management made a quiet, but critical decision that would have long-term consequences: they approved the necessary investment to be able to irrigate their three championship golf courses with “reclaimed” water instead of ground- or surface water.

“The writing was on the wall,” explained Joel Washburn, Course Superintendent. “The cost of water was going to continue to go up, and it wasn’t too early to anticipate the impact of those higher costs on operating the course once the conversion to surface water occurred. It simply didn’t make any sense to continue to use drinking quality water on the turf. The decision was made to bring effluent — treated to the appropriate U.S. EPA approved quality standards — to the irrigation pond, and from there, to disperse it on the greens and fairways.”

On average, Northgate uses approximately 100 million gallons of water annually on irrigation, depending on the amount of rainfall during the year. There is a water treatment plant on site, and more than one municipal utility district (MUD) is involved in the reuse program. There are two options available for the treated effluent: it can be discharged (by permit) directly into Cypress Creek, or it can be switched into one of three holding ponds that feed the Club’s irrigation system. Three of the lakes are connected through that system, and water can be moved between them by gravity feed…which is another efficiency because electricity isn’t needed to pump this water.

“There is no question that the decision to utilize ‘gray’ water for course irrigation was a sound one,” Washburn said, “and it continues to be now that the first phase of the conversion to surface water is underway. Just considering the pumpage fees we have not had to pay, we have saved a couple hundred thousand dollars a year. If you include the cost of the energy we didn’t have to use to pump water from the ground to fill the ponds, you can add another $50 to $100 thousand to the equation. This makes a favorable impact on our operating costs — and results in a savings that we can pass along to our members.”

Asked about golfers reactions to the quality of the turf, Washburn said that there had been no complaints or unfavorable reactions. The course remains lush and green until the grass goes dormant naturally during winter months and irrigation is not required.

“There are several other advantages to using reclaimed water,” Washburn explained. “We don’t have to rely on rain to fill our lakes — we can switch water around as needed for that. We also use this source to ‘water-in’ fertilizer. Since we made this transition, we have always had as much water as we needed for all these critical purposes.”

“One thing we’re especially proud of is that during that horrible drought, we never had to pump one drop of water out of the ground to maintain our golf course. And that benefits the greater community at large, our members, and the folks who have to make sure there is enough of this precious resource to go around. That’s a win/win scenario on anyone’s scorecard!”

Article from WATERLINES Feb 2013