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Water works revisited
Superintendents seeing practical uses for
A year after the results of the Golf Course Environmental Profile water-use and conservation survey were first revealed, superintendents around the country have begun to use the data to their advantage. In fact, some members have used the information in ways that not only help themselves, but others as well, in advancing their environmental stewardship.
For example, John MacKenzie Jr., CGCS at North Oaks Golf Club in Minnesota just north of the Minneapolis/St. Paul metroplex, has been working for the last several months to form partnerships with state legislators and a key influential state organization that has been critical of golf courses, the Freshwater Society.
MacKenzie’s mission is the development of sound water resource management in Minnesota, as well as responsible policy regarding water use on golf courses.
The 27-year GCSAA member, who is also president of the Minnesota Turf & Grounds Foundation, has shared information from the GCSAA survey not only with lawmakers and freshwater advocates, but also the Minnesota GCSA, the state golf association and related lobbyists, in order to further his efforts to form a green industry coalition to address water quality and quantity issues.
“Now’s not the time to cause golf courses to have to close down,” MacKenzie said of the threat of burdensome regulations on the golf course industry, despite the fact that Minnesota’s 400-plus courses generate 80,000 jobs and $2.5 billion in economic impact. “We want to help make good decisions for everybody, and to do that we have to get ahead of the curve. We have to partner with people beforehand. The GCSAA survey will help as we get further down the road with water scrutiny.”
Armed with GCSAA packets containing the Golf Course Environmental Profile’s water-use and conservation data, MacKenzie attended a state senate hearing on possible mandates on the potential use of recycled water, even though less than a handful of Minnesota courses use that resource.
“I got involved because I was concerned that they were going to mandate something that is already regulated,” he says. “Plus, I talked to one of the couple of superintendents who use effluent and he said the product that they run through their irrigation system is cleaner than what they are allowed legally to dump into a lake. So, what’s the deal here?”
While at that hearing, MacKenzie had the opportunity to meet for the first time the president of the Freshwater Society, Gene Merriam, a former state senator. Not familiar with the group’s anti-golf course stance, MacKenzie gave Merriam a copy of the survey results.
“He was appreciative. I extended to him the hand of friendship and said, ‘Let’s partner together and come up with a good concept for water management,’” he says of the chance meeting. “I found out later that he doesn’t favor golf courses whatsoever, and they since haven’t been very receptive to my offer.” (GCM messages to Merriam seeking comment weren’t returned.)
MacKenzie notes that the Minnesota GCSA and its members have a strong precedent of brokering self-regulation. Not too long ago they developed a certification process for superintendents to apply phosphorus products on their golf course turf.
“If we can prove that we are 100 percent successful with that program, there is no reason why we can’t partner with legislators and self-regulate our water use as well,” he says.
A positive resolution
Greg Holder, the Class A superintendent at Webhannet Golf Course in Kennebunk, Maine, can point to a positive resolution of a water issue along the southern tip of the state affecting three coastal golf facilities in which the water-use survey played a key role.
In September 2008, just a few months after data from the survey were released, Webhannet, along with Cape Arundel Golf Club in Kennebunkport and Cape Neddick Country Club in nearby Ogunquit, faced prohibitive water-cost increases as their local water district, responding to a Public Utilities Commission cost-of-service study, presented a new rate schedule based on conservation instead of its usual declining scale-rate schedule.
Holder estimates that the cost of water at Webhannet, which only irrigates tees, greens and approaches, would have increased 400 percent, from $7,000 a year to about $28,000.
Furthermore, when Holder got his hands on the survey results, the section about the comparison of water costs across the U.S. specifically jumped out at him.
“It was incredible,” he says. “When you compare water costs in the country, our proposed rates would rival those in the Southwest or Southeast where they actually have water issues, while here in the Northeast we have very few. But it’s a global influence, I guess. The speculation that’s involved because of what people see in the news is just unbelievable.”
More urgent than expected
Holder says the impending increase became even more urgent than expected, as he was soon to be talking with Webhannet officials about a new irrigation system that would expand the current coverage.
At the suggestion of his local Toro distributor, whose company is a major underwriter of the Golf Course Environmental Profile project, Holder contacted GCSAA staff for the water-use data.
“It was loaded with some really good information, and I felt like it would provide us with some good facts for the PUC and the water district to better understand what our issues are,” says the 14-year GCSAA member.
Holder gave the data to his course officials, who along with officials from the other two facilities, were presenting their case before the governmental entities. In the end, the golf courses, fortified by facts — and, as it turns out, more than a few threats of litigation — basically won out.
“The water district ended up being quite helpful. It admitted that it needed to revise the new rate schedule, which is what they wound up doing,” says Holder, who adds that Webhannet’s increase this year will be about $3,000.
In late April, Holder said he was now using the survey information to bolster his case for a new irrigation system. He currently waters less than 10 percent of Webhannet’s total acreage and would like to expand that to include some of the 18-hole layout’s fairways.
“The whole survey does a good job of defining why good, efficient irrigation is so important to a golf course,” he says.