Have you thought about trying to switch your irrigation water supply to an effluent source? Maybe you need the water, or perhaps you’re under regulatory requirements to change to an effluent source. Whatever the reason might be, there are a number of questions you need answers to before committing to effluent water.
Where is the effluent coming from and at what flow rate (gallons per minute)?
Do you have to take a set gallonage every day, whether you need it or not, or do you take the amount you want only when you need it?
Is the treatment plant a secondary- or tertiary-level facility?
What is the quality of the water, and how consistent will the quality be on a day-to-day basis?
What is the salt level?
Are you paying for the effluent, or are you getting it for free?
Who is paying for the infrastructure needed to get the effluent water to your golf course?
Are you getting the effluent water under pressure and boosting it, or are you storing it on-site in a pond or other water storage vessel?
How do you signal that you need water?
Is the water under pressure and available at all times, or do you have to ask for it when you need it or turn on a pump to start the transfer?
Do regulations require that all irrigation equipment be labeled purple to indicate a nonpotable water source?
You need to know at what flow rate you’ll be receiving the effluent, when it’s available, and over what time period. Will you receive it 24 hours a day, only at certain hours or on demand? If on demand, is it available 24/7? Many effluent system contracts require you to take a set amount of water per day whether you need it or not. If you can’t put it on the golf course, where will you store or dispose of it?
If you know the type of treatment plant that’s providing the water, you’ll have an idea of the quality. Tertiary-level treatment plants provide high-quality water, while secondary-level plants provide lower-quality water that may require some treatment before it’s used for irrigation. Secondary-level treatment plants tend to provide inconsistent levels of water quality on a daily basis, whereas tertiary-level treatment plants should be very consistent.
Some treatment authorities are happy to get rid of the effluent and provide it at no cost, but others will charge a fee (usually at a lower rate than higher-quality water).
In order to have a place for the effluent water to be disposed of, the treatment authority will often pay for the infrastructure that will deliver it to the golf course. In some cases, they will even pay for a new or upgraded irrigation system to distribute it. However, improvements can be substantial, including new pump stations, new or additional storage, booster pump stations, sophisticated controls to communicate with the treatment plant, and purple labeling to signify effluent water use. Make sure you understand all of the costs and who is paying for what.
The biggest concern with using effluent is to make sure your golf course will not become a disposal field. There are many examples of golf courses that have used effluent water and have deteriorated over time and ended up with poor-quality turf. Turf species and geographical location are important, too. In some areas of the country, effluent systems have a separate water source for the greens so they don’t receive the effluent water. This is most common on bentgrass greens in humid areas.
If you’re considering switching to an effluent source for irrigation water, or are being required to use effluent, do your homework and make sure you know all the pros and cons. Understand the changes that will have to be made to your turf management program and all the costs involved. Decide if effluent is appropriate for your golf course. Lastly, have a written contract with the authority providing the effluent water. Then everyone will know who is responsible for what, and that the agreement is legally enforceable.