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NMSU Extension turf specialist helps golf course expand subsurface irrigation

SANTA FE – As the demand for water continues to grow, recreational landscape managers are adopting innovative strategies to increase irrigation efficiency.


Two men working on pipes.
Employees of The Club at Las Campanas golf course in Santa Fe install subsurface drip irrigation along on the fairway rough. Bernd Leinauer, New Mexico State University Extension turfgrass specialist, led a workshop to install the system. This is the second phase of the golf course water conservation plan. The first phase installed the subsurface irrigation on the 12 tee boxes, which created an 80 percent savings in water. (Courtesy photo)

“It is imperative that efforts be made to conserve potable water by irrigating landscape and turfgrass areas with non-potable, recycled water sources and by adopting strategies to increase irrigation efficiency to sustain quality and functionality of these areas,” said Bernd Leinauer, New Mexico State University Extension turfgrass specialist.

The Club at Las Campanas, a golf community in Santa Fe, is working with NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences to expand its subsurface irrigation system that uses non-potable, effluent water.

In addition to using effluent water, The Club has reduced the amount of turf on the course by a third, redesigned and updated the irrigation system and started using wetting agents to help conserve water.

“During the first phase of our research collaboration, we have seen water savings of up to 80 percent on our 12 subsurface-irrigated tee boxes, sized between 300 and 1,200 square feet,” said Tom Egelhoff, director of agronomy at The Club.

“Based on these positive results, we decided to expand the subsurface irrigation to a much larger area, 7,000 square feet of the course’s fairway/rough area that has new houses built next to it. We are required by New Mexico Environment Department to either keep a 100-foot distance between residences and sprinkler-irrigated turfgrass, or have the grass irrigated from a subsurface system,” Egelhoff said.

There are strict regulations on the use of effluent water in close proximity to residences. Most of the public does not object to effluent water being used in parks or golf courses, but when it gets closer to their home, residents often have concerns.

This poses a challenge when golf courses built near housing developments use treated effluent water to irrigate using sprinklers. Backyards and other parts of the residences could be exposed to the recycled water via spray drift. The only way to meet these regulations is to put the irrigation system below ground to eliminate the risk of human exposure.

“The subsurface irrigation system is perfect for these areas,” said Leinauer. “However, several design and installation changes have to be made when we scale up from smaller areas to areas greater than 5,000 square feet. We use larger pipes for the header and footer that connect the drip lines to deliver the correct amount of water at the necessary pressure.”

With the support of Rainbird Corporation and WinSupply Irrigation & Landscape in Albuquerque, Leinauer recently held a workshop at the golf course and successfully installed the subsurface drip system.

“First observations indicate that the system works well,” said Egelhoff. “With the assistance of Dr. Leinauer, we will keep monitoring the turfgrass and recording water use.”

Egelhoff added that as more houses are being built in close proximity to the irrigated areas of the golf course, there will be more projects planned to highlight water conservation through efficient turfgrass irrigation.