Recycled water plan in works for RSF Golf Course; water board approves ag rate


Officials from three local entities are working together on a plan that would provide recycled water to irrigate the Rancho Santa Fe golf course, thus saving nearly 80 million gallons of drinking water annually that could instead be used by residents of Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach and Fairbanks Ranch.

Over the past 18 months, officials with the Santa Fe Irrigation District, the Rancho Santa Fe Community Services District and the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club have been meeting to discuss the proposal. The Santa Fe board received an update on the talks at its meeting on Thursday, Sept. 15.

According to a report prepared by Santa Fe staff, the preliminary budget for the project, including construction, engineering and permits, is $7.122 million. Annual operating costs to produce about 240 acre feet of recycled water – or approximately 78 million gallons – are $161,000, plus annual debt service of $457,000 for the initial capital investment.

Potential sources of funding – and the division of costs among the organizations – are yet to be determined, said Mike Bardin, general manager of the Santa Fe Irrigation District, which provides water to Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach and Fairbanks Ranch.

“We’re in the conceptual stage,” Bardin said.

However, he said, he has been keeping his board members apprised of the progress of discussions between the three organizations, and they have been supportive.

“We’re getting the sense the board is saying keep going,” he said.

It’s possible he could come back with a formal agreement for the board to consider by next summer, with the system actually in operation within three years, Bardin said.

The golf club would also like to have an alternative water source in place within two to three years, said Al Castro, the club’s general manager. The club established an ad hoc committee to explore alternatives to the use of potable water for golf course irrigation 18 months ago, Castro said, and remains “100 percent committed” to the concept.

“If all the pieces can come together, we’re very excited about the prospect of the golf course being irrigated with recycled water,” Castro said. “There’s a lot of potential for this to take a lot of acre feet of potable water and make it available back to Santa Fe Irrigation District” if this project moves forward, he said.

Much work remains before the recycled water can begin to flow. The Community Services District, which treats wastewater from the Rancho Santa Fe area, would have to upgrade its treatment plant to a tertiary level of treatment, and also needed would be a pumping station, pipelines and storage tanks, said Bardin.

Recycled water is produced by treating wastewater three times, allowing it to be used for such purposes as turf and landscape irrigation.

The Community Services District would be able to provide about 241-acre feet of recycled water annually, based on the amount of wastewater it treats, meaning that an additional 45-acre feet of potable water would still be needed by the golf course, which uses 285-acre feet per year, according to the Santa Fe staff report. An acre foot is enough water to sustain two families of four for one year, or 325,900 gallons.

Another issue that remains to be worked out, said Bardin and Castro, is how the Community Services District would dispose of brine, or excess salt, removed from the water during treatment. One option is contracting with the San Elijo Joint Powers Authority, a wastewater treatment agency.

A representative of the Community Services District did not respond by press-time to a voice message seeking comment.

Currently, the Santa Fe Irrigation District provides about 550-acre feet per year of recycled water to the western portion of its service area, including Solana Beach, which is used for irrigating Lomas Santa Fe Golf Course, San Dieguito Park and other areas, including roadway medians. That water is purchased from San Elijo.

If the proposed project moves forward, that would bring the district’s total to 800-acre feet annually, roughly 8 percent of the 10,000-acre feet of water it provides to customers each year.

Officials said that if the Rancho Santa Fe golf course project is completed, it could be the first step in providing recycled water to other properties in Rancho Santa Fe, including large privately owned parcels.

At its meeting on Thursday, the Santa Fe board also approved, on a 4-0 vote, with director Augie Daddi absent, the establishment of an agricultural rate for commercial growers in its service area.

The agricultural rate would apply to those customers who generate at least $1,000 per year in sales of agricultural commodities. In order to receive the agricultural rate, customers with groves on their residential properties would be required to install a sub-meter, and report the amount of water used for agricultural purposes. The rest of the water they use would be billed at residential rates.

In a letter to the district, Chuck Badger, who manages groves for residents of Rancho Santa Fe and other communities, estimated that the new rate would save growers about $400 per year for each acre of land used for agricultural purposes.

Jessica Parks, a Santa Fe spokeswoman, said the district has identified about 162 customers with agricultural operations on their property, accounting for about 3 percent of the total demand for water by district customers.