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Salt 'killing' park, golf course turf

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Posted: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 1:00 am

Water containing high sodium levels delivered to most parks and local golf courses threatens their existence.

SunRidge Canyon Golf Club manager Jeff Lessig commented on the dire situation of reclaimed wastewater, known as effluent, on golf courses and town parks at a recent meeting of the Fountain Hills/Fort McDowell Visitors Bureau.

Effluent is used to irrigate grass at SunRidge Canyon Golf Club, Eagle Mountain Golf Club and FireRock Country Club, as well as Fountain Park, Golden Eagle Park and Desert Vista Park.

Even though the reclaimed wastewater is treated and delivered by the Sanitary District, the main “culprit” in causing high sodium levels is residential water softeners that use salt.

Lessig wants to launch a public awareness campaign to convince residents to switch from using salt to potassium in their home water softeners.

Effluent water is dangerously high in sodium chloride (salt), explained Lessig. Eighty parts per million is considered to be a healthy standard.

Recent laboratory tests measured 260 parts per million, 325 percent higher than the healthy standard, he said.

“We don’t have healthy golf courses right now” because of the salt content in the water, said Lessig.

Profitability of the golf courses affects the town because of the significant revenue they generate through property taxes, sales tax, tourism and employment, said Lessig.

“Golf courses also have an enormously positive impact on real estate values and the entire brand and image of the community,” he said.

“Collectively, the golf industry is one of, if not the largest, economic engines in the Town of Fountain Hills.”

Golf courses suffered enormously during the recent economic downturn. Local courses compete with other clubs that don’t apply treated wastewater.

“Healthy turf grass is a must for golf course operators competing for market share in a crowded and ultra-competitive tourism environment,” said Lessig.

Studies of golf consumer habits consistently show that course condition is the number one reason cited by golfers when making their decision on where to play, he added.

Cost issue

Applying potable water is financially prohibitive, said Lessig. SunRidge Canyon pays between $300,000 and $400,000 for reclaimed water. He estimated the expense to use potable water would be three times greater.

“We can’t afford $1 million. We would go out of business.”

“If we can’t grow a reasonable strand of grass, we’ll lose market share,” said Lessig, which could precipitate golf courses going out of business. “Indirectly, it affects everybody in this town.”

Officials with the Sanitary District use a similar argument that they cannot handle the extraordinary expensive cost of desalination.

“So, the solution is to keep the salt out of the system initially,” said Lessig.

He asked the advisory committee to support a voluntary community-wide program to remove salt from the effluent water for “the health of the community and the good of the environment.”

The committee took no action during its meeting.

Homeowners and businesses using water softeners have the choice of converting from a sodium to potassium water softening agent. Potassium chloride does not pose negative consequences for turf grass or human consumption, said Lessig.

Although readily available, Lessig said a 40-pound bag of potassium chloride costs about $20 compared to a similar size bag of sodium chloride selling for $5.

“Price is an issue, but I would like to think you could support a community effort to convince people to voluntarily use potassium chloride in their water softeners.”

He mentioned that Rio Verde Community Association adopted a voluntary campaign to “Boot the Salt” a few years ago.

Residents signed an honor roll to use potassium pellets instead of salt for their water-softener systems.

Mayor Linda Kavanagh said Scottsdale operates a reverse osmosis system that removes the salt.

“I think the Sanitary District needs to upgrade their technology,” she said. “If there is something the town needs, you can’t sit back and say that’s too expensive. You have to do it.”

Former Mayor Jerry Miles asked Lessig how the sodium chloride issue affects him as a non-golfer.

“I think you do it because it is the right thing to do,” responded Lessig.

Kavanagh suggested that he contact the town’s Greening Committee to adopt a public awareness campaign for potassium chloride pellets.

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