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County approves discount for Sierra Sage irrigation, seeks lower effluent costs from city

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Representatives for the company that manages operations at Washoe County’s Sierra Sage Golf Course said the cost of effluent to irrigate the course – an estimated $200,000 this year – has left them with sticker shock. 

Washoe’s Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday voted to shift savings on south valleys effluent to help reduce the burden on Sierra Sage Golf Course, cutting the total bill by about $30,000 this year. 

Commissioner Mike Clark, who pulled the item from the consent agenda for additional discussion, was in favor of approving the measure but said they were just kicking the can to next year. 

“A golf course – the sod, the trees – need to be watered. I’d like to see a way to figure out a long term [solution],” Clark said. “Golf courses are long term investments. You can’t turn the water on one year and off the next.”

Cal-Mazz Golf Management, which operates the county-owned course, in 2009 signed a contract with Washoe County to manage the course. At the time, and in error, the City of Reno was still billing the county $40,000 a year for the effluent to irrigate the golf course and the nearby sports complex. 

The county passed on the cost of the course irrigation to Cal-Mazz, which expected that cost to remain the same. 

The county’s original contract with the city included a $40,000 rate for effluent in the first year of operation, back in 1999. In future years the county was to be billed the irrigation rate – about 50% to 70% of the potable water rate – based on the prior year’s usage. That calculation and rate change never occurred, and the $40,000 annual billing continued.

However, after the billing error was discovered by city staff in 2017, the bills have been adjusted to cover the irrigation rate for what’s actually been used. Costs for the effluent have steadily risen. The city billed close to $184,000 each year from 2018-2021, and nearly $196,000 last year.

Don Vetter, who spoke on behalf of Cal-Mazz, said despite the $30,000 discount from the county, the bill was still going to be close to $170,000 this year. He said course management has yet to see justification for the effluent rates as they are. 

“There’s a real lack of transparency,” he said. “Right now the ball is kind of in Reno’s court. Can you give us your rationalization so we can adjust our ability to provide playable, walkable and affordable golf?”

Assistant County Manager Dave Solaro said the city is now working on a rate analysis for effluent reuse water, and until that’s complete they won’t know where the rates can be adjusted. 

Commission Chair Alexis Hill said issues like this one were an opportunity to put pressure on the city during the effluent rate negotiations with the city. 

“I think that in this time hopefully we can put some pressure on Reno,” Hill said. “Hopefully we can do a long term agreement with Reno putting in their equal share.”

For now, Vetter said Cal-Mazz is working to adjust operations rather than raising course rates. The plan is to cut water usage by 30-40% this year. 

That, he said, would only cause problems in other areas since the effluent that would have been piped to Sierra Sage will likely end up in Swan Lake, an already flood prone area. 

Correction: This story has been updated to note that Sierra Sage does not receive effluent from Swan Lake.

Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth is a freelance editor and communications professional with more than 20 years’ experience working in marketing, public relations and communications in northern Nevada. Kristen graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in photography and minor in journalism and has a Master of Science in Management and Leadership. She also serves as director of communications for Nevada Cancer Coalition, a statewide nonprofit. Though she now lives in Atlanta, she is a Nevadan for life and uses her three-hour time advantage to get a jump on the morning’s news.

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