Water wars in River City

A proposed transfer of water rights has some folks saying Montreux Golf Course is all wet

Photo By David Robert

When informed of an upcoming story about the golf course, Montreux security guards prevented access to RN&R photographer David Robert. Here’s the gate.

There’s trouble brewing with the water down in South Reno.

In dispute is an application to transfer 46 acre-feet of senior water rights from agricultural irrigation in Pleasant Valley to Montreux Golf Course. These senior water rights are the original water use allocations given to the first residents of the area. They were decreed back in the 1800s.

Montreux already owns senior water rights for 422 acre-feet of water a year (an acre-foot is calculated as one foot of standing water on an acre of land). The average household uses one-half to one acre-foot of water per year.

The problem with golf courses, and especially golf courses in desert climates such as northern Nevada’s, is that a high percentage of the water used for maintaining the course and keeping water hazards full is lost to evaporation and transpiration. There is no return flow through runoff and minimal groundwater recharge. By comparison, traditional agricultural flood irrigation consumption is much lower than golf course irrigation and returns up to 37.5 percent of the water to stream sources and groundwater recharge.

The water rights that would potentially be transferred to Montreux would draw from Galena Creek. The Pleasant and Steamboat Valley Land Owners Association has filed protests, arguing that if Montreux needs more water for golf course irrigation it should obtain a more environmentally suitable source (the golf course currently uses creek water). Regardless of where the water comes from, the evaporation will continue to be a problem, but if the golf course were to use effluent, or reclaimed and treated water, there would be less waste of creek water.

Members of the homeowners’ association fear that, in a drought year, Montreux would exercise its senior water rights to use up to 100 percent of its proposed allocation of 467 acre-feet. In the event of a severe drought, this could mean reduced surface flows in Pleasant Valley would force the balance to be made up by pumping groundwater, adversely affecting nearby wells.

“It feels like a slap in the face, [Montreux] trying to get an additional 45 feet when they don’t need it,” says Jack Schwartz, former attorney and current venture capitalist who owns a home off of Andrew Lane in Steamboat.

In 2003, Montreux used 374.7 acre-feet of its allocated 422 acre feet. Since its first year of operations, it has gone above 400 acre-feet only once, in 2001. In 1999, it used only 341 acre-feet.

Rick Taras, president of Big Ditch Co., an irrigation channel that provides water to many houses in Steamboat Valley, noted that in 2002 the company had to shut down the ditch in June. But the impact is not being felt only in the lower valleys. Several wells have dried up on the north side of the Mount Rose Highway near Callahan Ranch. There is a provision for the county to help in these situations, but so far only two homeowners have received assistance. The rest have had to pay to deepen or re-drill their own wells.

One answer to these problems could be reclaimed water. Irrigating with reclaimed water is known as effluent irrigation. Rob Nichols, a managing partner for Montreux, says that Montreux is wary of using effluent water, both because of the questionable availability of effluent as well as concerns that boron content in the water could hurt the pine trees, and that a potential high salt content could affect grass on the fairways and greens.

Steve Bradhurst, director of the Department of Water Resources for Washoe Country, says that Montreaux’s concerns may be legitimate but that his department would be happy to work with the company to resolve these problems.

“There is plenty of reclaimed water available, especially with the growth in the South Meadows." He adds that the effluent down in south Reno has the highest rating that the state provides, even allowing for human contact with the water, i.e. golfers being on the course while the course is being watered. Arrowcreek Golf Course, which is near Montreux, has been using effluent for seven years, and Wolf Run Golf Course uses effluent as well. Even famous Pebble Beach Golf Course uses effluent on a regular basis.