Recycling a splash at golf course

As northern Nevada’s drought drags on and water supplies get tighter, many businesses are finding ways to get more uses from the water they have, or just use less.

Green turf thrives on rolling courses at Washoe County’s Sierra Sage Golf Course in Stead — all sustained by unique water supplies. How are these fairways and others at other courses around Reno so well irrigated? From flushing the toilet, that’s how.

The Sage has been irrigating its 140 acres with recycled water from the City of Reno’s Stead Water Reclamation Facility since 2000. The course uses an average of 600,000 gallons a day during the summer.

The golf course is the treatment plant’s largest customer for the sand filtered, biologically treated and disinfected water that is pumped into the Sierra Sage lakes and ponds for on-course application. Treated effluent from the plant is also used for irrigation at the North Valleys Regional Park sports fields, Mayors Park in Stead and by dust control trucks operating at local construction sites, according to Robert Zoncki, plant operator for the City of Reno.

“While this isn’t a potable water product, we abide by Nevada Department of Environmental Protection standards for public safety,” Zoncki said. “It costs about 30 percent less than potable irrigation water and it’s keeping 350 to 500 acre feet of surface or ground water in our drinking water systems each year.”

A typical home uses about one half of an acre-foot of water annually — golf courses a lot more. As the West struggles with leaner snow packs, water reuse and recycling are just one of the tricks golf operators must use to keep the players happy and the course open for play, said Mike Mazzaferri, president of Cal-Mazz Golf, which operates Sierra Sage for Washoe County.

“If everyone else is cutting back their water use and their lawns are going brown, golf courses can’t have a bright green course, unless the water is recycled,” Mazzaferri said. “Sierra Sage and Wildcreek are two public courses that have the recycled water program in place. Arrowcreek and Wolf Run are the two privately owned courses in the Reno-Sparks area that take advantage of reclaimed water. It just makes sense, and the industry will be using it at more courses.”

Sierra Sage employs many other water savings tricks in the way it manages its acres of grass, Mazzaferri said. The course has reduced turf areas, employs sophisticated computer-aided sprinkler systems and has planted new drought tolerant trees.

“Our philosophy is that we’d like to see a dry spot on our course before we see a wet spot and we always push the ‘less water’ envelope,” Mazzaferri said. “What people need to understand is that turf will do better long term being a little hungry for water than giving it too much.”

“The recycled water does pose some minor chemistry issues,” he added. “But we are able to adjust PH levels and with proper application and turf management we can actually get a greener product than if we used potable water.”

The Stead Plant treats about 1.4 million gallons of sewage each day and has a capacity of about 2 million gallons.

“We see a lot of potential for water reuse not only for irrigation use but also for industrial use,” Zoncki said. “Its just another option to keep from tapping more into our surface and ground water supplies.”

For Mazzaferri, the lack of snow this year has had one benefit: more rounds of golf played than usual during a typical winter.

“We had 2,500 rounds in January,” said Mazzaferri, adding that most Januarys scratch 400-500 rounds at the course.

“It helps the bottom line,” said Mazzaferri of the increased patronage during the off season. To help the bottom line, The Sage also runs a full-service restaurant and bar, a large teaching operation and men’s and women’s clubs.

“We get a few tourists who play here,” said Mazzaferri, whose other job is selling insurance to other golf course operators.

“At the end of the day, we are a locals course offering a nice product for good value.”


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