Without water, an irrigation system is useless. Many different sources supply that water, including potable, surface, groundwater and waste water (effluent). Saltwater or reclaimed water are also possibilities, but require extensive treatment systems. For several reasons – cost, sustainability and availability – potable water is probably not a good long-term approach to your irrigation water supply needs.

Because it is a limited resource, potable water’s cost continues to rise and will never stop. Although water purveyors cannot charge for water – they can only assess charge for the cost of treating and delivering the water – these costs will continue to climb. Depending where your golf course is located, the costs may climb more rapidly than in other areas.

Potable water for irrigating golf turf, landscapes or agriculture is not a solid, long-term irrigation water supply approach. Besides not being a sustainable use of water due to the level of treatment inherent in it, potable water is expensive and may not be available in the quantities required or when you need it. Irrigation is needed most when it is dry. When it is dry, water supplies are most stressed. As a result, water use restrictions are usually applied when the water is needed the most. This is not the best scenario for your course.

Likewise, it is expensive to develop alternative water supplies. For example, many golf courses use a combination of water sources of which potable water may be one. Others could be ground, surface, waste, reclaimed salt or raw water. The more sources you have, the more time it takes to manage those sources. Automation of the various water supplies can carry an expensive price tag, but may save money in the long run through labor reduction and increased precision. Therefore, use the right source at the right time, especially if the source has a cost associated with it.

I recently visited a 36-hole facility with three ponds and three pump stations – one freshwater and two effluents – and a potable backup water source as well as a raw water supply. One 18-hole course has an effluent pond, and the other nine holes of effluent and nine holes of freshwater. The 18-hole effluent pond can fill the nine-hole effluent pond, but only when not irrigating the 18 it is located on. The 18-hole effluent pond can also dump directly into the freshwater nine wet well, but only when pumping over 1,200 gallons per minute for dilution. The freshwater pond’s primary water source is relatively expensive raw water. The nine-hole effluent pond at some point in the past could also be fed from the raw water source. There is also a potable water source back up that uses the same infrastructure to fill the ponds as the raw-water source.

Confusing, you bet it is! These issues are compounded by the fact that unlike many courses that have too much effluent many times this complex doesn’t have enough and must rely on the raw-water source. The raw-water source is not large enough to keep up with the 18, let alone 36 holes.

Unfortunately, the raw water source flows partially through an unlined open channel to the ponds. In the summer especially, but throughout the year, a large percentage of the raw water is lost before it ever gets to the pond, and this is not free water. None of the sources of supply are automated – it’s all manual and all must be monitored from a use standpoint. It is a water management nightmare.

This facility is a prime example of why every golf course should have a water management plan. This plan should be documented with narratives, pictures and plans explaining and showing what supply does what, what water goes where, what pump/valve/pump fills what and how do they operate – manually or automatically. That way, you, your staff and someone new can understand the overall irrigation water supply structure. In the 36-hole facility example above, when it was first installed someone envisioned it and understood it, but now after 31 years, and several different management teams, no one is sure how it was all supposed to work originally, never mind now. Understanding it has become a time consuming and expensive process.

At your facility have a plan for managing your future water supplies. If potable, then find alternatives. If it’s not, have a documented water management plan for you, your board and whoever comes after you. If you have one source and you never run out of water, be happy – it could be much worse.

Brian Vinchesi, the 2015 Irrigation Association Industry Achievement Award winner, is President of Irrigation Consulting, Inc., a golf course irrigation design and consulting firm with offices in Pepperell, Massachusetts and Huntersville, North Carolina that designs golf course irrigation systems throughout the world. He can be reached at bvinchesi@irrigationconsulting.com or 978-433-8972 or followed on twitter @bvinchesi.