The state Environment Department has approved a permit to allow Highlands University to water its golf course with treated wastewater from the city.
The agency made the decision, despite the objections of a group that fears the project would mean less water for acequias south of Las Vegas.
Felicia Orth, the department’s hearing officer, stated in her report that concerns about water availability should be referred to the state engineer’s office because her agency’s job is water quality.
She noted that she had asked at the end of a public hearing in December that Highlands consider a voluntary reduction of its request for water, adding that “downstream deletions” didn’t form the basis for the denial of the school’s permit.
Environment Secretary Ron Curry approved Orth’s recommendations last month, giving Highlands a five-year permit. The school has already been irrigating with treated wastewater — known as effluent — for more than a year under temporary state permits.
The San Agustin Ditch Association opposed the project because its acequia is southeast of the city and currently gets much of the wastewater treated by the city.
Highlands will get to use up to 500,000 gallons per day of effluent and store up to 3.1 million gallons of treated wastewater and potable water in a synthetically lined lagoon.
The department is requiring a backflow prevention system and notice to the state within 24 hours of any accidental discharges. Watering can take place only in a manner that minimizes public contact.
Additionally, signs must be posted in English and Spanish warning people about the use of the treated wastewater.
William Gonzales of the San Agustin Association has complained to the department twice about Highlands overspraying onto Mills Avenue in violation of the permit and irrigating during the day when only nighttime water is allowed.
Additionally, Highlands reported in mid-November that it had spilled 448,000 gallons of effluent that flowed into the low-lying wetlands, a problem traced to a broken irrigation line.
On Nov. 29, the Environment Department issued a notice of non-compliance to Highlands for failure to address overspraying onto Mills Avenue in response to a complaint filed by Gonzales in late September. The department also noted that the school had failed to submit monthly monitoring reports required under previous temporary permits.
Highlands had originally asked to irrigate using up to 150,000 gallons a day, but officials said they increased that number to 500,000 just in case the school needed that much on a particular day. Highlands has maintained that it didn’t expect to use that much regularly.
Gonzales testified during the public hearing that if the department approved Highlands’ application along with expected requests from the Las Vegas City Schools and the city itself, no water would be left on the Gallinas for his ditch.
He said the state engineer requires that at least 25 percent of the effluent go down the river.
Gonzales said last week he had yet to see the department’s decision.
Highlands President Jim Fries said he was happy with the state’s decision.
“The golf course is an important resource for the community as well as the university. Having a dependable source of water is important. It’s happening in public areas all across the country. We’re pleased to have the opportunity.”