With a 10-acre polo field visible from the street, it's almost inevitable that, with mandatory water restrictions in place, passersby would complain when they notice that the Menlo Circus Club in Atherton is continuing to water the field with above-ground sprinklers, even during the heat of the day.
But Christian Thon, general manager of the private club at 190 Park Lane, behind Sacred Heart Schools, said the club is working hard to incorporate water conservation measures wherever it can.
The club, which has been in Atherton since 1923, is doing that, he said, even though it has a well on the property that provides all water for outdoor irrigation, for its barns and arena, and for its spas and pools.
"We would like to believe we actually have been very proactive," said Mr. Thon. In early April, just days after Gov. Jerry Brown announced mandatory water-use restrictions, Mr. Thon called an all-staff meeting to brainstorm ways the club could cut back water use.
"I said, 'Let's try to be a role model,'" Mr. Thon said. "For us it's really not about money; it's about doing the right thing."
Staff members came up with ways to save water in each area of the club. In the kitchens, for example, workers no longer thaw food in water baths. They run the dishwasher only when full and serve water only when requested.
"We don't wash our barns any more," Mr. Thon said. "We vacuum our barns twice a day." In addition, horses can get a full-body bath only four days of the week, and when they do, it is by a hose with a shut-off nozzle. The other three days it's bucket and sponge baths only. All the washing machines are low-water use models, he said. Horses drink well water.
The club's arena has a special footing, or sand surface, from German Geo Textile that adds textiles to the sand so it requires less water to remain stable. Barn manager Jennifer Dixon said the club is also looking into incorporating an additive that would allow the use of even less water.
All the club's plumbing fixtures have low-water-use valves, and sink faucets and urinals are being replaced by models with sensors that turn them off when not being used. Toilets now have dual-flushing modes that use different amounts of water depending what needs flushing. Paper towels have replaced cloth towels to reduce water used for laundering.
Signs ask club members and employees to conserve while showering, shaving, or washing their hands, Mr. Thon said.
Turf irrigation has been cut back by about 60 percent, he said, resulting in yellow and brown areas. Mr. Thon said he got permission from the club's board of directors to "cut back as much as you can without killing the grass."
Flower beds will have drought-tolerant plants instead of annuals, and the club is considering replacing turf with other plantings. "We're re-evaluating; we're not just putting in grass and sprinklers," he said.
As for that polo field, Mr. Thon said the club is now watering the center area of the field four days a week (one of four sections is watered each day) because in August the field will be used for the club's annual charity horse show. The watering is done during the day, he said, because the sprinklers used on the field must be moved by noisy tractors hourly, which might violate the town's noise ordinance if done between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. The field can't have in-ground sprinklers, Mr. Thon said, because they could injure the horses.
The club is going to try watering on a different schedule, however, if it is approved by the town, he said. The club will attempt to water in the early morning and evening by using low pressure in the pipes, shorter pipe lines and a golf cart to move them around, all of which should make the watering quieter, he said.
The club's well has been tested and shown to provide drinking-quality water, Mr. Thon said. The club has also, for the past two years, checked to see if the level of water available in the well has gone down, and it has not, he said.
To try to maintain that level of availability, Mr. Thon said, the club used its recent construction project as a chance to redirect all runoff from club buildings and landscaping and rain water into a series of dry wells that drain into the aquifer and not off-site.
"What God doesn't take and the grass doesn't drink goes right back to the aquifer," he said.