A few months ago, I had the opportunity to interview Kevin Brown, general manager of the Virgin Valley Water District in Mesquite, Nev., and hydrologist and assistant general manager Aaron Bunker. I’m sure most of us have asked the question, or have been asked, “Where do we get our water to water these beautiful golf courses in southern Utah and Mesquite?” Here is a brief picture of what takes place in Mesquite. St George is pretty similar according to Mr. Brown, who once worked there as well.
It’s all about purchasing water shares, utilizing private water rights, and recycled water. This includes the Virgin River water, ground water, our drinking water—which is called potable or culinary water—and reused or recycled water from the City of Mesquite’s water treatment plants. All golf courses in our area use the water that comes from the Virgin River. However, some golf courses cannot use this water on their bent grass greens due to its alkalinity levels. The earliest settlers in our area primarily used Virgin River water and had to go to great lengths to make it drinkable and suitable for irrigation. Charcoal was used as a coagulant to separate solids, and the water was diverted into cisterns and buckets. Over time, the silt and particles would settle to the bottom, and the charcoal would remove most of the awful-tasting solids.
You can now see one of these historic water treatment areas thanks to the severe drought at Lake Mead. It was a community called St. Thomas. Once covered by 60 feet of water, St. Thomas lies in the northern part of the Lake Mead recreational area near the Overton Arm along the Muddy River, which feeds into the lake. It’s a ghost town that’s now visible. Click here to check out the very informative video.
So how do golf courses secure water rights from the Virgin Valley Water District? It’s a board-appointed application process. It’s on a first-come, first-served basis. Currently, there are no longer shares available to be leased from the VVWD. There are, however, other options for would-be golf designers to purchase water. Private water is still available, and there are at least three golf courses utilizing it: Casablanca, Oasis Golf Club, and the Palms. There are also irrigation companies that sell water. Several private property owners have come to the VVWD asking for the ability to lease their shares. They’re on a waiting list right now, waiting for shares to free up, which won’t happen until 2019, according to Brown.
These are the questions I posed to the VVWD’s Brown and Bunker.
If a new golf course wanted to be built in Mesquite, would they be out of luck, or could they buy enough water elsewhere?
“We’re only a shareholder in surface water ourselves. There are irrigation companies in the valley as well who can sell their water. We’re just a shareholder like anyone else. This water district provides the potable water for the valley. So the shares that we own will be used for potable water in the future. It takes anywhere from 900 to 1,000 acre feet of water for a golf course to adequately meet its needs. All of our culinary water or ground water comes from wells. We currently have water rights for 12,000 acre feet of ground water and 2,500 acre feet of spring water from up on the mountain that hasn’t been developed yet. We also have another 9,000 acre feet of surface water, a portion of which represent the shares we own.”
So surface water is from the Virgin River?
“Yes, all of our surface water is currently being used either by Southern Nevada Water Authority or private users such as the golf courses here. That’s the shares we spoke of. The 12,000 acre feet of ground water (potable water), the valley residents are only using about 6,000 acre feet, leaving us with 50 percent more, if needed.”
Is the potable water also sold as shares?
“No. Once VVWD starts treating the Virgin River water, it will be distributed in the drinking water system just like the ground water and will be metered in 1,000 gallon units.”
Has there ever been an issue with providing sufficient water due to droughts?
“Right now we’re looking pretty stable here. The Virgin River water is very stable, like the undeveloped mountain spring water to our south, its spring feed as well.”
You said that many of the golf courses here cannot use Virgin River surface water on their greens due to its high alkalinity. Can they use reused or recycled water?
“Yes, it depends on the golf course. We pulled our numbers from last year to see what the golf courses in our area used in potable water—91 million gallons. That represents about 10 percent of their total water usage. That doesn’t include the reused water that they purchase from the city. Or any of their other water sources that they own like the Casablanca and Oasis Golf Club, and the Palms via their private shares or wells. Falcon Ridge and Oasis Palmer each use one million gallons per day of reuse water which is a fairly good estimate of what other 18 hole golf courses need.”
What is the average total gallons needed to maintain a golf course, potable and reuse included?
For this question, Mr. Brown suggested I contact a golf course directly. I contacted the course superintendent at Falcon Ridge, Mr. Hans Gardner. He said that his course might be a bit smaller than the rest at 93 acres but that they used approximately 1.2 million gallons per day during the summer months. 40-50,000 gallons of that for potable water due to their greens being bent grass greens, similar to CasaBlanca’s greens.
How does the water get from the Virgin River to the various golf courses?
“There are several pump stations that pump water into a canal owned by the Mesquite Irrigation Company. This canal is visible in limited areas. One is Hillside Drive by the court house where it goes underground and comes out again right behind the old Oasis parking lot and then sees daylight again in front of Casablanca golf course. All the courses pull off that canal or the City of Mesquite’s reuse distribution system. It’s their main feed. Once it’s pumped into the lakes and ponds you see on the golf courses, it may be combined with reuse water.”
How many gallons are in a single share?
“A Mesquite share has multiple water rights. It is 7.18 acre feet, and there are 325,851 gallons in an acre foot. For each share, you can water 0.9 acres. The average number of acre feet is 900 to 1,000 or 120 shares for an average 18-hole golf course.”
Are we using more water these days due to population growth? Is global warming an issue?
“Our main mission is potable water. We have a huge aquifer that we can pull from here. If golf courses depend on surface water from the Colorado water basin there may be an issue in the future but I’m not an authority on that. We’re actually starting to see a decrease in usage from our home owners in general. Thanks to conservation efforts in watering lawns and even taking shorter showers we’re doing pretty good as a community. Reuse water is in higher demand here during the summer months, because so many residents move to their second homes to get out of the heat. Thus less reuse water.”
I’d like to thank Kevin Brown and Aaron Bunker for their time and efforts. It’s nice to hear that our personal conservation efforts are helping with this valuable resource. Mother Nature will always do her best, but we as individuals and business owners still need to do ours to conserve and protect our water sources so that there’s ample water for our personal and recreational needs. After all, these lush green golf courses we enjoy are one of the main reasons we choose to live, work, and play here. Hope that helps answer the question of where we get our water around here. See ya on our beautiful green links!