Rancho Santa Fe Farms golf course switches to recycled water

Rancho Santa Fe Farms golf course switches to recycled water
Officials with the Olivenhain Municipal Water District “turn the valve” on Thursday at The Farms Golf Club in Rancho Santa Fe. The valve-turning ceremony celebrates the completion of the course’s conversion from potable to recycled water. Photo by Aaron Burgin

RANCHO SANTA FE — To keep the fairways and greens at The Farms Golf Course perfectly manicured, course personnel would irrigate the course with enough drinking water to satisfy about 500 families’ water needs for a year.

The effects of using that much water toward landscaping, as opposed to families’ drinking needs, is exacerbated during a drought like the one currently facing California, one of the most severe on record.

On Thursday, the Olivenhain Municipal Water District and officials with The Farms course celebrated the end of the use of potable water at the 90-acre course and the decision to “go purple” — or use recycled water — for the course’s irrigation needs.

The timing, officials said, could not be better, as it comes on the heels of Gov. Jerry Brown mandating that water agencies cut water use by 25 percent.

“Few are more opportunely timed than this conversion today,” said Kim Thorner, the water district’s general manager, during Thursday morning’s valve-turning ceremony, which symbolizes the conversion. “This is an important step in fulfilling our goal of converting potable water to recycled water whenever possible.”

The Farms is the sixth of the eight golf courses in the water district’s service area to convert to recycled water for irrigation — The Del Mar Country Club, Fairbanks Ranch Country Club, Morgan Run Resort and Club, The Crosby National Golf Club and Rancho Santa Fe Golf Course have all made the conversion.

One of the final two courses — one in the Village Park area — will be converted next year. The final course — Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe — is likely five years away from receiving recycled water due to the distance away from a recycled water source, Thorner said.

The cost to link The Farms to the district’s recycled water pipeline was relatively inexpensive — about $250,000, $200,000 of which was borne by the course and $50,000 by the district — but the process took about seven years to complete.

“It was quite the arduous process,” said Troy Mullane, the course superintendent. “There was a lot of coordination between a lot of entities; the course, the water district, the county and the HOAs. It was challenging, but in the end, it is very rewarding.”

Mullane said that the recycled water with have potential residual effect of decreasing the course’s fertilization needs due to the water’s higher nitrate levels.

“It’s an improved water source for us,” he said.

Recycled, or reclaimed water, is treated wastewater that meets high enough standards for irrigation of public places such as landscaping and golf courses, but does not meet drinking standards. It runs through bright purple colored pipes so that people can distinguish them from potable water pipelines.

Before the conversion, the Farms would use about 214-acre feet- or 70 million gallons — of water per year in irrigation from a reservoir just north of the course. To put in perspective, Thorner said, an acre-foot of water can satisfy two-and-a-half families’ drinking water needs for a year.

“Rather than using it on irrigation, we can now satisfy 500 families per year with this additional supply, and that is a pretty big deal,” Thorner said.

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