That is what the golf course operations in Georgia were faced with when outdoor watering rules were proposed. The rules are part of the Georgia Drought Management Rule adopted this year by the Department of Natural Resources (DNA) for our state. This is amazing. Even during non drought times, golf courses had restricted watering schedules in a climate that receives 50 plus inches of rain per year! This is not the forum to go into “why” restrictions were being proposed. The story here is how Georgia dealt with this situation.
It was extremely apparent to us that the folks doing our advocacy left us high and “dry.” The golf industry was relying on other green industries and agriculture to tell our story and they did it quite ineffectively. As one may surmise, water is important to everyone on a personal level. Golf became a political sacrifice in the early stages of drought management study for the green industry. Agriculture simply told us that they did not want our water numbers attached to theirs. Politics have nothing to do with proper water management – right!
What to do?
First we got the golf industry together. An alliance was formed between the Georgia Golf Course Superintendents Association, the Georgia Section of the PGA, the Georgia Club Managers Association and the Georgia State Golf Association. The group formed a Water Task Force. The task force was to formulate a plan to address water issues in the state and then follow through.
We found that there were many problems to be solved with water in Georgia. Other states wanted to be sure that a shared water supply served their specific needs. This prompted a negotiation, and then litigation dubbed the Water War. Georgia met its limit for reuse discharge into waterways, leading to an immediate need for land applications – enter golf courses. Storm water runoff was recognized as a source of pollution causing erosion control mandates and stream buffers.
Finally, there is growth. Lots and lots of growth and the need for more economic development have caused concern for the future effectiveness of our reservoirs. Knee jerk legislation and regulation soon followed. The golf industry had to be proactive and engaged in this arena. The Georgia Golf Course Superintendents took the lead on the Water Task force and started a campaign to deal with the issues.
First things first
Knowing that we could not be at the center of activity everyday, the group interviewed and then hired a lobby firm to take our message to the governing bodies and regulators. Georgia Link is our advocate and certainly one of the best. In 2004 Georgia Link was recognized by its peers by taking first place in the three categories of a survey conducted by James Magazine: integrity, influence, and knowledge of issues.
To get our story told, the Water Task Force developed some tools. A study of golf in Georgia was compiled, which included environmental messages, best management practices for water use, community involvement, and resources for folks to follow up. An economic survey was compiled showing golf as a nearly $3 billion industry in the state. Handbooks were developed to help golf courses understand and utilize reuse water. And finally, with the help of our lobby team, a network of folks was formulated to bring the message to the influential people in the state.
Where the rubber meets the road
There were two very real areas where our efforts demonstrated results. We also had some positive unintended consequences of being proactive that helped our industry.
First, the OutDoor Water Rules were being formalized. After overcoming the adverse effects of our previous advocates (other Green Industry), we were able to convince the regulators at the Department of Natural Resources that we are good water stewards. Showing that our Best Management Practices for Water Conservation are everyday occurrences, the DNR changed the proposed rule.
Golf went from being restricted even during non drought times to being completely exempt through level one drought. Tees are exempt through level three drought and greens are completely exempt. This is huge for golf in Georgia. We were also able to get exemptions for pesticide/fertilizer applications, new plant installations for 30 days and irrigation maintenance.
The future looks even brighter - not because it looks like rain - but because we have entered into an agreement with the DNR. By 2007, we will have 75% of our member courses on a Best Management Practices for Water Conservation Program (as outlined in the GCSAA course “BMPs for Water Conservation”). Once this obligation is met, the DNR will review the outdoor watering rules for golf. This is truly exciting for the golf industry in Georgia.
The second success is in the legislative arena. House Bill 237 was introduced as a sweeping overhaul to the current law regarding water in Georgia. The Water Task force and lobby efforts were successful in keeping golf regulated as agriculture which holds many benefits in the state.
Positive unintended consequences
During our efforts, we formed many quality relationships with legislators and regulators. Telling our story of environmental, economic and community enhancement made believers out of almost everyone. Simply put, we made friends.
We also made friends with some media. Our new relationships in the media allowed us to help support a half hour documentary on the OutDoor Water Rules for Georgia that shows golf as a great steward of water and friend to the state.
What if every chapter was proactive and engaged in the affairs of its community? What if every chapter told the story of environmental, economic and community enhancement golf brings to its state? What would be the positive consequences? What if?
Submitted by Mark Esoda, CGCS, Atlanta Country Club, Georgia Water Task Force
To share your chapter's success stories, please email them to Leann Cooper.