Gray is the new green

July 11, 2011

Gray is becoming a very popular color in golf.

In fact, an increasing number of courses are using effluent water – often referred to as “gray water.” Government regulations and water availability have led to the increased use of gray water at golf facilities, says Brian Vinchesi, design engineer at Irrigation Consulting Inc., Pepperell, Mass.

“On some courses, they are required to use effluent water, or no golf course,” Vinchesi says. “On others, it is the only source of water that may be available. Lastly, laws may require that the lowest quality water available be used, which would be effluent.”

While all effluent is filtered, treated and disinfected, the amount of treatment is based on regulation and water quality, Vinchesi says. “It varies significantly from state to state in terms of what can be applied,” he says. “Some state regulations require only secondary treatment, whereas others require tertiary treatment, tertiary being a higher level than secondary.”

Three superintendents share their experiences with using effluent water to irrigate their turfgrass.

The Currituck Club.

Mike Terry, Class A golf course superintendent at The Currituck Club, Corolla, N.C., has been irrigating with effluent since he arrived at the course in 2005. However, this course, which is permitted to take 500,000 gallons of effluent per day to irrigate 66 acres, has used effluent since it was built in 1996.

“Golf courses are good places for effluent use because they are large open spaces that can substitute for spray fields to dispose of high quantities of effluent water,” he says. “Water is getting scarcer and all golf courses will one day most likely be irrigating with effluent water.”

The Currituck Club obtains its effluent from an on-site treatment plant that processes the effluent from the surrounding subdivision. The effluent water is stored in a small pond on No. 6 that serves as that hole’s water feature.

Doing so, though, comes with challenges.

“The problem we have is that our storage is not always adequate for our heavy in-season flows of effluent,” Terry says. “Our irrigation system can only get out about 368,000 gallons of water per night and since we are permitted to take much more, a pump breakdown or a rain event can cause a surplus of this water since our storage is not adequate.”

The Currituck Club does not have the irrigation system capabilities to really flush the effluent areas. So when the facility receives any substantial rainfall, an obvious difference in the turf can be seen.

Terry injects acid/urea and calcium into the nightly irrigation cycles during the season to combat things such as pH, bicarbonates and sodium. His team also applies granular gypsum to problem areas where they have had soil-tested and found elevated sodium levels. The Currituck Club deals with some turf quality issues related to the sodium in both water sources. Terry says. The freshwater they use to irrigate the rest of the course comes from wells throughout the property and is pumped into a large lake on the fourth and fifth holes.

“Because of our coastal location, these wells pump water high in sodium,” Terry says. “And this water, at times, is as problematic as the effluent. Our best long-term source for irrigation water may well be the effluent since our ‘fresh’ water is not of the best quality.”

As a result, the holes irrigated with effluent are looking better than those irrigated with the fresh water, Terry says.

The club is investigating ways to put more effluent on areas of the course now watered from the fresh well water. This would help address the surplus issues they have during the season when there is more available effluent water than the irrigation system can handle.

Terry explains the dilemma. “The biggest problem is because of our seasonal operation here at The Currituck Club,” Terry says. “During the off-season we are a ghost town and there is no one around to produce much effluent. During this time we must supplement our effluent pond with well water to keep it filled when we have to irrigate.

“During the season we have so many people vacationing here that we have too much water and we do not always have the capability to get rid of it all,” he adds. “We have to run a lot of extra effluent water around the course in-season to keep the storage pond in its banks. The quality and quantity of this water is a challenge to manage because of our seasonal nature.”

There are infrastructure issues, too. Their irrigation heads often develop clogged screens and foot valves. And the injection chemicals used are very hard on foot valves and seals, Terry says.

“Our irrigation tech spends a lot of time replacing foot valves since we started the acid/urea injection,” he says. “We have identified a protozoan (epistilis) growing inside our irrigation piping and this has caused a lot of the clogging and pressure problems we see on a regular basis.”

Ventana Canyon Golf & Racquet Club.

Like The Currituck Club, the course at Ventana Canyon Golf & Racquet Club in Tucson, Ariz., has used effluent water since construction in 1983.

“It is the only water source available for irrigating the golf course,” says superintendent Wally Dowe. “Turfgrass acts as a filter for using lesser-quality water. Environmentally, it is the right thing to do.”

Ventana Canyon, which receives its effluent from Tucson Water, uses about 300 million gallons per year. They have two lakes on site – one that covers one surface acre and the other that covers four surface acres.

Since untreated effluent can do as much harm as good, Dowe injects N-phuric acid to control pH and lower sodium and bicarbonate levels in the water. He also increases fertilizer, such as gypsum and potassium.

“There’s a constant challenge with many forms of algae,” Dowe says. “We installed three new Rain Bird pump stations with filtration system and this has greatly reduced stuck heads due to algae.

“It is necessary to treat the lakes for algae as well,” he adds. “Both lakes have water fountains as well as bubblers to increase oxygen in the water, which helps reduce algae growth.”

Dowe, who has been at Ventana Canyon for 15 years, says Tucson Water requires signage – which they have posted – stating that the course irrigates with effluent water.

Meadow Lakes Golf Course.

The city of Prineville, Ore., actually built Meadow Lakes Golf Course in 1992 to reduce the amount of effluent water entering the city’s waste water treatment plant. In the past, the city was allowed to reduce the amount by letting it enter the Crooked River after being treated.

Steve Reynolds, who joined Meadow Lakes as the assistant superintendent in 1992 and took the head spot two years ago, says, given proper drainage, golf courses are a desirable location to irrigate with effluent water because the turf and soil are natural filters for underground aquifers.

In conjunction with the city wastewater treatment plant, Meadow Lakes has a 10-million-gallon storage pond approximately 1 mile away from the course. There are 10 ponds on the course, which are for evaporation purposes only, as well. Those only have an inlet – no outlets – and are anywhere from 2 to 4 feet deep.

Meadow Lakes uses approximately 600,000 to 1 million gallons of water a night. The irrigation system consists of a pump station with three pumps, which supply 3,000 gallons a minute.

Driven by Rain Bird software, the irrigation system is a “block-type” with anywhere from one to four head zones. The block system was originally specified by the designer instead of valve-in-head because of possible clogging issues of the nozzles, Reynolds says. They have installed several valve-in-head sprinklers, however, and have had no issues of clogging.

“The only issues we have had with the effluent water is when we do not irrigate a couple of nights in a row, there is a briny smell for a few minutes during the start of the cycle,” he says. “This smell has been determined to be from the fact that it has been in the main line too long and the chlorine has dissipated. If we know ahead of time that we are not going to water for some reason, the wastewater plant super chlorinates ahead of time to alleviate the smell.”

Because the effluent runs a high pH, Meadow Lakes has purchased a sulfur burner, which is placed at the treatment plant. It helps lower the pH of the water supplied to the course.

“We have also noticed an improved greening effect in the turf because it also lowers the pH of the soil, which in turn releases the micro nutrients being tied up in the soil,” Reynolds said.

While the water is tested daily for pH and standard water quality set by the department of environmental quality, Meadlow Lakes  –  like Ventana Canyon – posts signs warning golfers not to enter or drink the water.

Signage – or lack thereof – is often determined by where the courses receive their effluent.

“Many golf courses using effluent are getting water from the housing development that surrounds the golf course. The golf course may have been included in the development for the sole purpose of disposing of wastewater,” Vinchesi says. “Others get it like a utility for the city or municipality. In those cases, the use of the effluent is more than likely mandated.”

Legislated by law, used by choice or forced through necessity, effluent water looks to be gaining momentum and it may just be a matter of time before it is the rule, rather than the exception. GCI

Rob Thomas is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.

SIDEBAR: Reverse osmosis feasibility

In the spring of 2000, our company completed an irrigation/pump station renovation project for Red Run Golf Club in Royal Oak, Mich. The club’s water source was a combination of ground water wells and a 4-inch city water line. The ground water wells’ total capacity was more than sufficient to meet the new system’s demands. However, like many other ground-water aquifers around the Great Lakes, the salt content was higher than desired for turfgrass. The TDS (total dissolved salts) in the wells at Red Run ranged from 1,000-1,800 ppm. Over the years, Gary Thommes, CGCS, has done an excellent job managing his water quality in the spring and fall by blending the well and city water before it enters his irrigation pond. Once the summer heat begins, however, he is forced into exclusive use of city water.

However, during the past three plus years the region has seen more than a 200 percent increase in city water rates. We have to imagine these increases will only continue, especially when most municipalities are scrambling for ways to increase revenues without raising taxes. Water is an easy choice and golf courses are a an easy target.

More than 10 years ago, when we completed the system at Red Run, reverse osmosis (RO) systems, though available, were in their infancy in the golf market. Even the smallest units had a price tag that exceeded and sometimes matched our total irrigation renovation budget, costing more than $1 million. During the past three to five years, irrigation pump station manufacturers have invested their efforts into the manufacturing of their own RO stations as golf course expansion boomed internationally, especially in the Middle East. The surging number of RO manufacturers has caused the cost of these units to drop dramatically and made it possible to pursue a solution for Red Run, possibly eliminating the club’s dependence on city water and its rising costs.

In February 2010, Thommes and our company started investigating the possibility of integrating a RO station. The preliminary numbers justified our looking into the potential project further. In the following month our company completed a feasibility study for the club looking at past, present and projected future water rates vs. the cost of a properly-sized RO station, construction costs and long-term operational costs. Our findings showed, at worst, it would take a maximum of three years for the club to see a return on their investment.

At the beginning of April 2011, Red Run’s board approved the project and ordered what we believe will be the first RO station for a golf course irrigation system inside the contiguous U.S.

Michael Kuhn, CID, CGIA, EPA Watersense Partner, is head of Michael Kuhn & Associates, Auburn Hills, Mich.       

5 essential filtration tips

There’s one thing in life golf course managers can count on: when irrigation systems fail, courses -- and managers’ reputations -- can dry up in a hurry. You’ve got a lot riding on your sprinkler heads, which is why it’s vital to protect them from solids in your water supply. There is a wide variety of filters available on the market – an almost dizzying array of choices.

1 Know your nozzles.

Start at the nozzles and work your way back to the filter. How large are the orifices? A standard rule of thumb is to specify a degree of filtration that is one-third the size of the orifice – much finer than the built-in filter screens in most sprinkler heads. That will help prevent problems with particles agglomerating or bridging in the sprinkler head. Check with your irrigation dealer for details on orifice size. Remember: 0.01 cm/0.004 in is 100 microns.

Where particles tend to be stickier – algae, for instance – you are more likely to see a buildup of blockage on orifices and protective screens over time. To combat that, go for a finer degree of filtration – one-seventh the size of the orifice.

Here’s where it gets challenging, especially if you are looking at screen filtration. Not every 100-micron screen performs the same way. For instance, wedge-wire screens have rectangular openings that are wider than they are tall. So if a 150-micron particle is oriented sideways, it may flow right through a 100-micron wedge-wire opening. By contrast, woven screens have square openings. Bottom line: learn how your screen is constructed.

2 Know your solids.

To select the appropriate filter – in terms of technology, filtration degree and flow rate – you need to know what your water contains. Drawing from a pond or canal increases the odds that you’ll be dealing with algae, which is deformable and sticky; you may also find yourself up against mollusks like mussels, whose larvae are as small as 70 microns. Well water is more likely to contain sediment – either sand, which is abrasive but tends to remain in discrete grains, or clay, which tends to bind with other clay particles to form clumps that look like stacks of dishes. Both surface and subsurface water sources may contain bacteria, which can form slime.

Screen filters are excellent at capturing sand and clay. You’ll find they will be more likely to back flush more often where clay is the predominant sediment, as the plate-like particles will stack up and blind the filter more quickly.

Though many screen filters also do an excellent job with algae, disc filters and sand media systems tend to excel with deformable solids that can squeeze through small openings. Both disc and sand media systems rely on depth filtration, capturing solids as they travel through a deep area of filtration, like running a long gauntlet. Depth filtration doesn’t have to take up a lot of space, though – disc filters have a far smaller footprint that bulky sand media systems, and tend to be substantially more efficient at back flushing than sand filters are.

3 Consider changing water conditions.

Water quality is a moving target. Snowmelt and rainstorms can turn a clear water supply into a cloudy mess thick with sediment. Summer sun and fertilizer runoff can cause seasonal algal blooms. Wells churn up sediment as water levels drop. Stiff winds or runoff from empty lots or construction sites can dump sand and silt into your water. Mussels spawn in creeks and lakes, filling the water with plankton.

Pay attention to what Mother Nature hands you in a typical year and make sure you select a filter that’s versatile enough to handle whatever flows through the inlet.

Quantity can also change. Consider changes in flow through your system as seasons come and go, and specify a filter that can keep up with peak demand.

4 Minimize waste.

Back flushing is a necessary function in filtration. But minimizing the volume of water consumed by back flushing can have a significant effect on your sustainability and your bottom line.

After all, any water that is going down the drain or back to the head of your system is not going forward to your sprinklers. That lowers the efficiency of your system.

Check the specs on various filtration systems. In some cases – for instance, comparing sand media systems with high-end automatic self cleaning screen or disc filters – the screens and discs produce as much as 75 percent less back flush water than the sand media systems do. Pay close attention to screen area, too, making sure you choose a screen large enough to handle your flow and your sediment load. Also, a filter that delivers too fine a degree of filtration may end up back flushing more often than necessary. Sometimes it may be worthwhile to let smaller particles flow through the system rather than carry them away in back flush water.

Other environmental factors can be taken into account, too, when considering the environmental sustainability of your filtration system. Disposing of cartridges creates a significant amount of waste, not to mention expense for labor and materials. Systems that require chemical cleansing or a significant amount of energy also add to the environmental footprint of a system. So does the filter’s physical footprint – installing and housing compact systems require less concrete, steel and structure. In today’s environmentally-conscious culture, that makes a difference.

5 Consider your maintenance schedule.

You’ve got plenty of other things to worry about – your filter should be seen, not heard from. In fact, the best filter is the one you only have to think about on scheduled maintenance days. The bottom line: it’s worth the investment (and then some) to choose a filter that is robust enough and reliable enough not to require emergency maintenance.

In short, a good filtration system can be one of your best friends on the job. And like a good friend, you want to choose one you can trust – one that won’t let you down.

Jim Lauria is vice president of business development, Amiad Filtration Systems, Oxnard, Calif.