When the storage in the wastewater treatment plant ponds dropped below 100 acre-feet last October, the announcement was greeted with applause from board members, staff and spectators at the Rancho Murieta Community Services District board meeting. It had taken four years and cost the CSD $200,000 in fines and thousands more to dispose of stored wastewater to meet a requirement set by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.
This year there won't be any cheering. The reduction in carryover storage, an extraordinarily dry winter and reduced flows to the wastewater treatment plant have created a shortfall in recycled water for the Country Club's golf courses.
"It's feast or famine. This is the famine year and the really wet years are going to be the feast years when we worry about having too much and not being able to get rid of it," CSD General Manager Ed Crouse said recently.
In a letter to club members, Country Club President Vince Lepera wrote that the club has cut irrigation of the two golf courses by 30 percent to make it through the summer because of the shortfall.
But the shortfall does not extend to the community's supply of potable water. "The raw water supply is fuller this year versus the same time last year, most likely due to the conservation efforts of the community," Paul Siebensohn, director of field operations, noted in his report to the CSD board this month. The district diverts water from the Cosumnes River between November and May for storage in the drinking water lakes -- Calero, Chesbro and Clementia. Calero supplies the community's current water needs.
According to the CSD, the club was notified about the recycled water shortfall in March. "We only had 450, maybe 500 acre-feet of storage. We're allowed to store up to 728 acre-feet," Crouse said. A wet spring or winter would have increased storage to 550 to 600 acre feet, he said.
"We let them know we were going to have reduced quantities of recycled water and as a consequence they started diverting from the river to Bass Lake," Crouse said. By July, the reduced river flows meant more recycled water deliveries. "Now we're at a point where the river is essentially dry -- we're down to three (cubic feet per second), which is the lowest I've seen in the 14 years that I've been here," Crouse said.
According to a notice on the CSD web site, the district began using water from Lake Clementia Aug. 13 to supplement the irrigation supply for the South Course.
In the next few weeks, the CSD expects to run out of wastewater that was stored from October to April. "What that means is whatever we get in from the residents through sewage, we're going to generate recycled water, and that flow rate coming into the plant right now is about 460,000 gallons a day. ... What comes in goes right back out," Crouse said. It takes about five days for the wastewater to be processed through a series of ponds, he said.
Lepera said club officials only learned about the magnitude of the shortfall from the CSD within the past few weeks.
"If they're at 400,000 and we're at 1.2 (million gallons of daily usage), now you have a problem, since those (wastewater treatment plant) reservoirs were basically empty," Lepera said in a telephone interview. "They're going to run out of water, there's no way around it. ... That's an issue."
He said the impact so far on the courses is not extreme. Some club members have commented on brown spots and fairways that are hard.
The amount of sewage flowing into the plant from households in the district is about 10 percent less than usual. "The only thing we can attribute it to (is) it was a dry spring," Crouse said. Although storm drainage isn't part of the flows to the wastewater plant, Crouse speculated that the water percolates down and infiltrates the pipelines. "This is the first year we've had low flows. This is the first year we've made improvements to the sewer system."
Crouse said he doubted that the 10 percent reduction in flows was due to vacant homes, saying the total number of homes, including foreclosures, where the water service has been shut off is less than 2 percent.
Crouse said the regional board's requirement for 100 acre feet or less of storage by the end of the irrigation season is predicated on a 100-year rainfall season.
At last week's CSD meeting, resident Ted Hart called the golf courses "the centerpiece of Rancho Murieta" and said they were being stressed by the lack of water. He asked if the problem would be repeated next year.
"Honestly, it's really weather dependent, and the only time you can look at things is at the end of the rainy season and say, ‘This is what we have available for the irrigation season.' That's what we did this year," Siebensohn said.