Golf balls are moving slowly on the practice green at Quail Run today—an indication that the grass is growing well on the gated community’s golf course.  

But it’s early in the season, and mowing the greens down to the faster, crew-cut length to which the pros are accustomed might make it harder for a groundskeeper to grow them back later in the season. 

Quail Run officials know Santa Fe’s summer heat all too well. Just last year, the complex with 103 “beautifully landscaped acres”—which has been situated off Old Pecos Trail since the late 1980s—asked Santa Fe for a variance to daytime watering restrictions to take care of some dry spots, city officials say. 

Robin Laughlin knows the kind of impacts a drought can have on a golf course, too. On a recent Thursday, fighting shoulder pain, Laughlin, a Quail Run member, manages to place some practice chips impressively close to her target. Repeat club champion in the women’s bracket, Laughlin, wearing a pink polo t-shirt and navy golf hat, is practicing chipping down slope in the rough. 

Despite being an avid golfer, Laughlin cites frustration with the association’s water use. That came to a head after SFR last month published its list of top-10 water users in the city. Quail Run was the No. 1 commercial user, with city records showing it used 17.2 million gallons of water in the calendar year 2013—that’s 44 percent more water than the second-highest user on the commercial users list. Laughlin and other members are upset that Quail Run officials won’t talk about the water use. 

"We’re a community that has a golf course and we keep getting bad press about it."

“For a few years in a row when we would get the Reporter and we’d say, ‘What is this?’” she says. “Why? And they wouldn’t answer you.”

Lynne Bundesen, a former member who recalls water running down the streets of the association, reports she also raised the issue of the water usage.

“I never felt that  I got a full response,” she says. 

Quail Run officials say the association is mistreated by the media. It’s consistently been on top water-users lists published over the years, but officials rarely, if ever, provide reporters with comments. 

“I’m not going to talk to you about the water. I don’t know anything about it,” says Mike McGonagle, a Quail Run board member. “We’re a community that has a golf course and we keep getting bad press about it. And I don’t have any statistics. I think the press is unfair about that so we can’t help that. We have homeowners here as well as the golf course.”

SFR reported Quail Run’s average daily water use in 2013 matched the average daily consumption of 800 people in Santa Fe. That calculation was based on the city’s 2012 statistic from water meters classified as “residential” that shows the average resident uses 58.75 gallons per day. 

Looking at it another way, Santa Fe’s per capita average daily consumption is 105 gallons for all uses. That calculation is an average of all consumers, factoring in water used by both residents and businesses. 

Quail Run has a golf course, restaurant and indoor pool—along with 265 residential units. Using those figures, Quail Run’s average use for 2013 matched that of about 450 individuals. 

And Quail Run’s total consumption of 17.2 million gallons is about 8.5 million gallons less than it consumed in 2012, according to city records. The amount its consumption went down in 2013 from the previous year is equivalent to the annual water use for more than 220 water consumers in the city. In fact, it’s the lowest water use the association has logged since 2008.

When Quail Run officials approached the city last summer, city officials say they denied its request to water hot spots between 10 am and 6 pm—restricted-use times. Instead, the city told Quail Run that the association could contract with a hauler to bring treated effluent from the Wastewater Treatment Plant. Three other golf courses in and around Santa Fe have direct pipelines for the effluent but are considerably closer to that facility. 

City officials also say they asked Quail Run about its drought management contingency plans, and Quail Run responded with a memo. 

“They were trying to be proactive,” says Santa Fe Water Conservation Manager Laurie Trevizo.

On the way to the clubhouse, Laughlin takes SFR on a tour of the nine-hole, par-32 course. The grass is growing well on the greens, but there are some brown patches. Grass is also filling in on the fairways. She points to the grass growing in the area between tee boxes and fairways. Players are supposed to soar tee shots into the fairways over those patches of grass right in front of the tee boxes. 

Laughlin wonders: Why then is there a need for grass right in front of the tee boxes? On another day, she sends photos of sprinklers spraying water down sidewalks of Quail Run. 

She says she’s tried to obtain a breakdown of her association’s water use—how much its 265 homes use versus how much the spa, pool, restaurant and golf course use. Records obtained by SFR show the highest consumption comes from Quail Run’s water meter used for irrigation. In 2013, for instance, the irrigation meter recorded 17.2 million gallons while its other meter logged 16,800 gallons. 

Quail Run General Manager Marla Thompson tells SFR the association’s irrigation meter counts use for the golf course, common areas and residences. Yet Thompson refused to go on the record about what the association has done to reduce its water use or any other issue.   

Laughlin brings SFR back to her modest yard, where she covers an apple tree to shield it from the cold weather. Her January 2013 bills show Quail Run charged her $11.51 for 1,200 gallons used—about 39 gallons per day.  She wonders why management has been so tight-lipped about water use.

 “The owners say: ‘Why don’t you answer the newspaper? Why don’t you catch water? Why don’t you do something?’” she says. “If you’re an owner and you say that, they just think you’re a tree-hugging hippie.”

Adds Trevizo: “I think any conversation about how to be efficient with the water that you use is a good conversation.”