An Oasis of Water-Saving Measures

How a lush resort in the driest spot in North America conserves water

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The Oasis at Death Valley
on September 11, 2017

Although virtually all of the water gets used, any extra is released so that it replenishes the aquifer beneath the valley floor.

Every drop of water is precious in Death Valley, Calif. Averaging less than two inches of rain a year, the valley is the driest spot in North America. There were even two years, 1929 and 1953, when no rain fell at all.

During a stay at The Oasis at Death Valley (formerly called the Furnace Creek Resort), you might just wonder, “If it’s so dry here, then where does all of this water come from?” After all, you’ll probably spend time basking in one of the lush resort’s swimming pools. Or if you’re a golfer, your tee shots will soar out over a decidedly un-desertlike landscape: the broad green fairways at the historic Furnace Creek Golf Course.

Golfing in the mountains

As hot and parched as Death Valley may be, there are actually hundreds of small spring-fed wetlands and oases scattered in and around the valley. The Oasis at Death Valley certainly comes by its name honestly: It’s located at one of these natural seeps. According to the United States Geological Survey, the resort’s Furnace Creek location is “one of those rare spots in the desert where springs rise out of the rock, providing life-sustaining water for desert plants and animals.”

Most of the water at the resort originates as snowpack in the high mountains of Nevada, says Heather Willis, the resort’s sustainability manager. After melting, the water may remain on the surface for a time as it flows in streams and creeks, before percolating and disappearing into the ground. By the time it finally reaches subterranean aquifers at Death Valley, the water has traveled many miles from its source. And it has taken thousands of years of runoff for these basins to fill up.

The resort depends on an aquifer located between Furnace Creek and Zabriskie Point and uses a gravity-fed system to deliver water to two separate operations, says Willis. For drinking needs, there’s a reverse osmosis facility operated by the National Park Service that purifies the water and raises it to potable standards.

Pool and palm trees

In the second system, the springs directly feed the swimming pools at The Inn at Death Valley (formerly The Inn at Furnace Creek) and The Ranch at Death Valley (formerly The Ranch at Furnace Creek). Rather than being re-circulated and chlorinated, the water is eventually allowed to flow through after being held in the two pools for a time. Then the water is used for a variety of other non-potable purposes at the resort, including irrigation of the golf course and other landscaping uses. Although virtually all of the water gets used, any extra is released so that it replenishes the aquifer beneath the valley floor. And because this water hasn’t been chlorinated, there’s no need for additional chemical treatment before it percolates back into the ground.

While water is surprisingly available in Death Valley, it also needs to be carefully managed. Xanterra Parks and Resorts, the operator of the resort, and the National Park Service use a variety of measures to protect this invaluable resource.

These efforts are especially important as the resort undergoes a major renovation and expansion that includes new buildings and additional landscaping, such as the planting of new date palms and a restoration of the date farm at The Ranch at Death Valley. The resort will also add a host of drought-tolerant plants native to desert habitats near Death Valley to further beautify the grounds.

Couple walking through palm trees

Despite all of these changes, Willis says that early estimates show that there will be no net increase in water usage. One reason is that by removing roughly 25-30 percent of the golf course’s Bermuda grass, a tough variety that’s able to handle both the valley’s intense heat and high salt levels, the resort can significantly cut irrigation to the fairways.

Of course, water efficiency is nothing new at this desert resort. After years of historic drought in California, Xanterra took significant steps to cut water use. A variety of conservation efforts led to a 10 percent reduction in consumption from 2014 to 2015. The installation of 367 low-flow, high-performance showerheads conserved nearly 740,000 gallons in the first year of operation alone.

Even as The Oasis at Death Valley continues to find ways to save water, as a guest you can also contribute to the sustainable solution. Here are a few water-wise tips to keep in mind when you visit Death Valley.

  • Don’t Be A Water Hog. Cut your shower time and turn off the tap while shaving or brushing your teeth.
  • BYOW (Bring Your Own Water). Take a couple of gallon jugs and use them to refill your reusable water bottle.
  • Look Out for Leaks. Despite the best efforts of resort and park service staffers, breaks in water lines still happen. When you see a broken water line or any other leaks, be sure to let someone at the park or resort know so that the problem gets fixed quickly.

How to Explore

The Oasis at Death Valley in Furnace Creek is situated in a lush oasis surrounded by the vast and arid desert of Death Valley National Park — just 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas and 275 miles northeast of Los Angeles. The resort encompasses two hotels — the historic AAA Four Diamond, 66-room Inn at Death Valley and the family-oriented, 224-room Ranch at Death Valley. The entire resort is undergoing a complete renaissance with an extensive renovation to be completed in the spring of 2018. The resort includes natural spring-fed pools, an 18-hole golf course, horse and carriage rides, world-renowned stargazing, and is surrounded by Death Valley National Park’s main attractions. For information and reservations, visit The Oasis at Death Valley or call 800-236-7916.

For more travel experiences to Beautiful Places on Earth™ available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.



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Written by: Matt Jaffe

Specializing in California, the Southwest, and Hawaii, Matt Jaffe is an award-winning former senior writer at Sunset magazine and contributes to a variety of publications, including Los Angeles, Arizona Highways, and Westways. His books include The Santa Monica Mountains: Range on the Edge and Oaxaca: The Spirit of Mexico.

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