Part 2: The Quest for a "Zero Waste" Golf Course

This is a follow up to The Quest for a "Zero Waste" Golf Course interview I did with Josh Heptig about a month ago. This time around we start to get in to some of the financials and the nitty gritty.

Turfhugger: What is your return on investment?

Josh Heptig: Luckily in our situation we do not have any out of pocket expenses other than some of our staff's time. Our compost vessels were granted to us via Integrated Waste Management Authority (our local waste management organization), much of the lumber for the infrastructure was donated by Hayward Lumber (local lumber yard), the worm bins and volunteer labor have been donated by Environmental Protection Associates Inc. (EPA Inc., the non-profit we are collaborating with) and Eco-Rotary International (a non-profit charitable organization in the US), and the current tea brewer is owned by Nyha Roots (one of our partners). 

The rest of the costs ~ $5,000 will be captured by a grant from the Morro Bay National Estuary Program (MBNEP). We are not actually sure how much cost will be saved at this point because there really is not any data relating to actual composting or tea brewing available with quantifiable results. Our hope is to provide those figures by working in conjunction with California Polytechnic University's Horticulture Department. We anticipate the total costs to getting our facility operational to be around $27,000 with labor, grants, and hard costs. 

Currently we are spending $0 for water as we have an agreement with a local prison to use their tertiarily treated waste water and we pay the pumping costs to the tune of $70,000 annually. If we can save 10% of the energy costs for pumping the water alone the ROI would be 3.8 years. That's not including potential fertility and pesticide reductions. So a course paying for water and pumping would have an even quicker pay back.

Turfhugger: When do you expect to break even?

Josh Heptig: We are conservatively expecting a 10% reduction in water/electrical costs and we expect to save $5-10K ($7.5K) on fertility and pesticides on top of that. So I expect that we will have captured our investment in just over two years.

Turfhugger: Okay, now back to the process, how do you screen/filter the compost so that it can be small and uniformed enough to be spread evenly?

Josh Heptig: To be honest we have not developed that mechanism at this point. We have plenty of landscaping around the property and we plan to use the compost in those areas in the beginning. These areas will not need a screened product as uniformity is not a concern. We positioned our compost facility adjacent to our irrigation pump house so that we could direct inject the tea into the irrigation lines and out to the course wall to wall, thus reducing the need to use the compost directly on the turf.

Turfhugger: How have you managed Turf in the past? (product wise)

Josh Heptig: I have always imagined a golf course with as few inputs as possible. My career has been centered in the Mid-west private club industry until coming to San Luis Obispo. My members were not willing to experiment fully with what we have designed here at Dairy Creek and until I met Richard with
EPA Inc. these plans may never have been fully realized. Our relationship with EPA Inc. has really been the perfect storm of which Richard and I are both appreciative. (Richard also runs the Green Golfer Foundation, Think SurfRider Foundation for golfers - check it out here

We have both brought our different resources and talents to the table to allow such an unprecedented facility to be developed. So my experience in the past has been a mix of primarily inorganic substances mixed with a variety of organic materials driven by my thoughts towards being an environmental  steward. Each facility I have worked at has been different in member expectations, environmental
concerns, soil structure, and needs. I have experimented with different organic products on all turf surfaces, tee to green, and found many of the products to to cost prohibitive and I believe much of that high cost is associated with the lack of demand because there has not been good quantifiable research available to the turf professional that doesn't just sound like a sales pitch. We hope to change all of that!

Turfhugger: Are you monitoring your soils?

Josh Heptig: You bet we are! We sample our soils at least once per year if not twice and with this program we have collaborated with Cal Poly to take base measurements, which will define how much if at all we have been able to modify components within our soils. We will watch fertility figures,
microbial activity, disease incidence, moisture content, color, etc.

Like I stated before we hope to prove that this is a viable option for golf courses or other facilities that can utilize their by-products to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills. At the same time we will be protecting and conserving our precious natural resources in an effort to create an even better living breathing ecosystem than golf courses already are today!