DRIFTWOOD, Texas (KXAN) — A new golf course in Driftwood has used millions of gallons of drinking water to irrigate its course, and some neighbors aren’t happy about it.

It started as a concern from a viewer, and, after some digging, KXAN found out it’s true.

KXAN has confirmed the 800-acre Driftwood Golf and Ranch Club is a temporary water customer of the City of Dripping Springs. The city purchases water from the West Travis County Public Utility Association (WTCPUA), which is a wholesale water provider.

The PUA said its records show the golf club started drawing water in July 2020 and has used 190 million gallons of water over the past two years.

It said the golf course is its single biggest user of water right now.

Ginger Faught, Dripping Springs deputy city administrator, said this week, the facility started trucking in 100,000 gallons of treated wastewater per week from the South Regional Water Reclamation Facility, and that’ll continue for 10 weeks.

But the city said that won’t cover the 18-hole golf course’s full needs, and it would still be allowed to pull up to 640,000 gallons per day from the same drinking water as residents of Dripping Springs under the current drought policy.

That’s where the golf course has been pulling all its irrigation water from up until this week.

Jennifer Riechers, general manager of the WTCPUA, said Dripping Springs began its contract with the golf club in August 2019 for up to 1 million gallons a day for 10 years or until the City of Dripping Springs can provide the course with 100% of treated effluent, whichever is sooner.

Faught said the golf course has “significantly reduced” its water usage during this time to comply with stage three drought restrictions, watering some areas by hand and not watering other areas.

She also said the golf course does not water directly from a potable water line, instead pumping from ponds to irrigate. 

“This allows the golf course to draw water from the system during non-peak times causing less strain on both the City and PUA systems,” Faught explained in an email.

“Due to our close attention to drought conditions and our side-by-side work with the PUA, Driftwood Golf and Ranch Club is below our designated daily consumption amount by more than 40%,” said Caleigh Bressler, Driftwood Golf and Ranch Club spokesperson, in an email to KXAN.

How and why it started

The city, PUA and golf course said Driftwood is a temporary PUA customer until it can use the effluent from Dripping Springs’ treatment plant. Treated effluent is what other golf courses, like all of Austin’s public courses, use.

“We draw no water from wells for use on the course, which we designed to accommodate these conservation measures while we complete the five-mile connection water line to the plant,” Bressler added.

Dripping Springs said the plan was always to use treated wastewater for the golf course, but it blames a lawsuit from the Save Our Springs Alliance for not being able to do that.

“The intent has always been providing treated effluent, however the pending litigation being pursued by SOS has significantly delayed the availability of treated effluent,” Faught said.

But Bill Bunch, executive director of SOS, said that’s an inaccurate statement his alliance had to dispute once they saw the city had used that argument in a court filing.

“This was the first time we’d seen it in writing that they were, you know, blaming us for… what we might consider wasting treated drinking water on watering a golf course,” Bunch said.

Bunch said their lawsuit only stops the city from dumping their treated discharge into Onion Creek. He said there’s nothing legally blocking Dripping Springs from instead using that treated wastewater on the golf course.

“They just have been sitting on their hands and not building the pipes that would allow them to deliver that treated wastewater to the golf course,” Bunch said.

The City of Dripping Springs refutes that.

“Their lawsuit absolutely frustrates our ability to provide treated effluent for beneficial reuse at the golf course. In fact, not only is Save our Springs Alliance protesting the Discharge Permit, they are also currently protesting an amendment pending at TCEQ to expand our land application permit. Without question the SOS discharge lawsuit and SOS’s protest of our pending amendment to our land application permit has affected the city’s ability to expand wastewater treatment in our area.”

Ginger Faught, Dripping Springs deputy city administrator

Even so, the city admitted the contract with the golf course has always included providing it with drinking water for at least some period of time.

When we asked why it didn’t try to truck in treated wastewater earlier, the city said it only worked to implement a plan once stage three restrictions were enacted.

The court originally sided with the alliance and revoked the discharge permit TCEQ granted to Dripping Springs. The city is now appealing that move. Bunch expects a court decision in the next couple months. 

“Do you see how people — neighbors in Dripping Springs might be concerned about this water usage? And what would you tell them?” KXAN’s Tahera Rahman asked Riechers.

“They’re permitted for it, we are monitoring their usage. And when we went to our stage three restrictions, we asked them to curtail even what they were contracted for. And they have been very cooperative and working with us to watch their daily intake of water from us,” she said.

Riechers said there’s no ruling banning this use of drinking water for the golf course.

Dripping Springs building moratorium

Dripping Springs has had trouble keeping up with its growing population and wastewater treatment for some time now.

The city enacted a building moratorium in November 2021 after reaching its wastewater capacity.

The council’s latest move in May extended the moratorium as it relates to wastewater until September.