BC Golf Courses Use Water Responsibly

15.08.05-titleist.droughtBy Dean Piller

With the present water restrictions being imposed on Vancouver Golf Courses, I think it is worthwhile to share with you an in-depth look at the tools and science behind the use of water for irrigation on golf courses and the important role irrigated, healthy and growing grass plays in an urban environment. 

I was reading the newspaper a couple of weeks ago and was shocked to hear the new term for someone that waters their lawn is ‘Grasshole’.  At first I laughed and then after contemplating this mindset I feel it is important to dive deeper into the benefits of irrigated turf and actually how small the percentage is of domestic consumption per household. 

Statistics vary depending where you go to find the information, however, a rough breakdown of household consumption shows that roughly 85 percent of household consumption is for bathing and toilet use, 10 percent for cleaning dishes and laundry and 5 percent for lawn and garden.  The benefits of a healthy garden start with pollution filtration, erosion control, weed control, carbon sequestration, oxygen production and the lowering of outside temperatures.  Golf Course fairways, parks and lawns play an important part in sustaining a healthy environment and Golf Courses go to great lengths to conserve water as it is a precious commodity that is expensive to purchase.  

Golf Course irrigation water supplies come from many sources depending on their location.  Many courses on Vancouver Island are fortunate enough to be connected to aquifers producing year round spring fed water and many others have water courses that run through them on their way to draining into the ocean.  These water courses are filtered beautifully by the dense vegetation that grows in and alongside these systems providing habitat for spawning fish and a variety of other amphibians native to Vancouver Island. 

After springs, streams and well water the other two sources of irrigation water for golf courses are reclaim water and municipal water.  Golf Courses that use reclaim water provide a tremendous outlet for this water that is not very desirable for many other applications.  This water is completely safe for irrigation but can often carry high levels of sodium and bicarbonates that can be harmful to healthy plant growth if levels become excessive during long periods of irrigation with no rain.  Use of municipal water is sometimes used to subsidize other sources during the summer months but this source is considered expensive so every maintenance program and activity is centered around minimizing the use of this water and maximizing its effectiveness in helping golf courses get through periods of drought. 

The water saving strategies and technologies developed by my peers in the golf course industry over the past 2 decades has certainly reduced the consumption of this valuable resource and our industry will continue to look for new ways to reduce this consumption moving forward.  Many of these programs include but are not limited to:  

- Physical and Chemical soil tests are taken throughout the year followed by management programs that are developed to optimize plant and soil health.
- Wetting agents are used during the irrigation season to help retain moisture in the turf grass root zone to further reduce hydrophobic areas and irrigation requirements.
- Magnets are being used to improve the waters structure during hand watering to further reduce irrigation requirements.  This treatment reduces water surface tension allowing soils to be wet uniformly and plants easier access to this water.
- Water is conserved using nightly computer controlled irrigation cycles and most courses employ several staff for hand watering daily to help with areas that have poor soils, tree root issues, slopes or poor coverage issues.
-  Soil moisture meters are used daily to determine soil moisture levels in the soil.  Areas below 15% moisture are in danger of wilting mid day so target moisture levels are maintained between 20 and 30 %.  Moisture sensor readings are a valuable tool in determining nightly irrigation cycles and hand watering requirements.

 Vancouver Island and the West Coast is a challenging climate to grow turfgrass because of our rainy winter months and long, rain free summers.  With this being said, rest assured that golf courses on the lower mainland and Vancouver Island employ many, if not all of these water saving practices and additional techniques to save water and nurture these valuable green spaces.  These practices help ensure that the many extremely positive benefits that healthy turf grass and landscapes provide to our communities and native wildlife are experienced.