look for
Smart Water Management
Taking a Bird's Eye View
La Rinconada Country Club Changes Course and Uses a
Drone to Deliver Savings
Project Summary
Located south of San Jose, California, La Rinconada Country Club had several reasons to want to get its
water use under control, California had suffered its share of droughts and corresponding water restrictions,
and in 2013 the club reached a peak of 121 million gallons of annual water use. La Rinconada took water
savings to new heights by instituting regular landscape water audits, creating a water management plan,
replacing unused areas of turf with native plants, and using a drone to survey the landscape and better target
its daily watering needs.
There are many benefits to conducting regular landscape
irrigation audits to check for leaks, broken sprinkler heads, and
other issues with the system. Most golf course managers know
the value of a good irrigation audit, and many use professionals
certified by a program that has earned the WaterSense label.
Taking photos from a drone provides the added benefit of an
overhead view of the landscape on any given day. Replacing
turf with iow-water-use species rounds out a water-smart
landscape. La Rinconada Country Club used a combination of
water-saving techniques and modern technology to develop a
landscape water management plan that prioritized areas of the
course that need water the most—greens, tees, fairways, and
roughs—and replaced turf in areas where native plants would
be more appropriate.
Here's how the drone worked: A camera attached to the device
took hundreds of images of the golf course, then those images
were processed and stitched together so the maintenance staff
could identify areas of the landscape that needed immediate
attention. Using a contractor to operate the drone for a year
cost La Rinconada approximately $6,000, which covered the
technology, maintenance, insurance, and compliance with
federal aviation requirements.
To get a complete view of the landscape with the drone, first a flight plan was developed based on the cargo
load, battery life, area to be covered, and the number of photos needed by determining the area visible to the
camera on each pass. La Rinconada's drone flew over the 110-acre property each day at noon for about 19

Case Study Highlights
•	Property: La Rinconada Country
•	Location: Santa Clara Valley,
•	Landscape size: 110 acres
•	Water savings: Reduced peak
water use by 54 million gallons
•	Cost savings: Approximately
$160,000 per year
PHONE (866) WTR-SENS (987-7367) WEBSITE www.epa.gov/watersense EMAIL watersense@epa.gov
A rn/l June 2019
SVtr?\ EPA-832-F-19-011

Taking a Bird's Eye View: La Rinconada Country Club Changes Course
minutes—snapping more than 400 images—to provide a complex view of the landscape and help simplify
watering solutions.
Getting the Picture
The photos taken by the drone were actually three different types of images:
•	Visible light images, taken with an RGB camera, provided an overall view of the landscape.
•	Near-infrared images could detect observable changes in the landscape such as plant disease and
•	Thermal images picked up on temperature and estimated evapotranspiration (ET).
Each type of image was useful in its own way. in the near-infrared images,
plants that were experiencing stress from water loss or disease stood out.
Knowing the ET rate based on the results from the thermal images was critical,
since areas with higher ET needed more water to maintain a healthy
landscape. And the RGB images provided supplemental information on plant
health and water stress.
After each flight, it took the drone-operating contractor about four hours to
process the images into a full map of the landscape that illuminated which
areas of the landscape were too dry or too wet, as well as those areas with
plant stress and higher ET levels. Using this information, grounds maintenance
staff could adjust the nightly runtimes of the irrigation zones or examine
problematic areas up close and make adjustments to sprinkler heads. In some
cases, a zone would reach its total water requirement, but a small section of the
zone would stiil be underwatered; in those instances, staff couid spot-water one
small area, rather than increasing the total irrigation for the zone.
To supplement the drone images, the team at La Rinconada used Google Earth
to view an overhead map of the course and post "pins" to identify areas where
rodents had been found, beds needed mulch, or sections of landscape were
dried up. Because the map was saved on their mobile devices, staff could
retrieve it while walking through the landscape to inspect the grounds and pin
additional areas for improvement.
Going Native
La Rinconada's water management plan also included native grasses, woody plants, and chipped beds; staff
used the Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD) plant list and chose plants that would be most
appropriate for the local climate. To identify areas where golfers didn't play or walk, course management
consulted with the Greens and Grounds Committee and received recommendations from an architect. As an
added incentive, SCVWD offered rebates to La Rinconada for removing areas of the landscape that
previously required irrigation.
Native plants were introduced into out-of-play sections, areas adjacent to trees were mulched, and the
maintenance staff reduced watering in those areas. Over the course of seven years, the property converted
more than 10 acres of unused turf area to drought-tolerant, native plants.
In this infrared image
provided by Kevin Breen,
the colors show plant
health and degree of
moisture (bright colors are
unhealthy, green colors
are healthy).

Taking a Bird's Eye View: La Rinconada Country Club Changes Course
Lessons Learned
•	Make a plan. Conducting regular audits and creating a water management plan helped La
Rinconada Country Club identify irrigation best practices and plants appropriate for the local climate,
as well as prepare for any possible droughts or water shortages.
•	Do it every day (and night). Because the drone flew daily,
staff could quickly identify areas of the golf course that
received too much or too little water and make corrections
within the same day. And since the irrigation system ran at
night, staff could revise the runtime for each zone into the
controller by the end of the day.
•	The sky isn't the limit. If time, cost, or access is an issue with
using a drone to survey the landscape daily, Google Earth can
be a simple solution for conducting a virtual "fly-over," walking
the course, and "pinning" areas for improvement.
•	Stay on course. La Rinconada management communicated with golfers about the effort and
solicited feedback about areas that were not regularly in play, to ensure that any changes to the
landscape would not impact their comfort or performance.
By incorporating native species, implementing items from its landscape irrigation audit, and quickly
addressing issues found in the drone images, La Rinconada was able to significantly reduce its outdoor water
use. Compared to its peak water use of 121 million gallons in 2013, in 2017 the country club used 67 million
gallons of water, or a 44 percent savings.
The U.S Environmental Protection Agency's WaterSense program would like to thank Certified Golf Course
Superintendent Kevin Breen of La Rinconada Country Club for providing images and information for this case
Learn More
To read other case studies on outdoor water use, visit https://www.epa.gov/watersense/case-studies. For
more information about WaterSense at Work, a best management practices guide for commercial and
institutional facilities, visit https://www.epa.gov/watersense/commerciaI.
Drone used to take daily images of
the La Rinconada course.