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Golf Courses Help Replenish Drinking Water

Most people believe that golf courses do nothing but guzzle water, but experts say that during the rainy season, the green grass on the courses actually helps replenish the county's drinking water supply.

Golf courses use 2 to 3 percent of South Florida's water each year. But during heavy rains such as those that happened in May and June, those courses can give back close to 15 times the total drinking water used in those two months.

"Golf courses and their open space are important to recharging the aquifer," said Mark Elsner, water supply administrator at the South Florida Water Management District.

According to national statistics, about 100 acres of the average 18-hole golf course uses turf grass. The turf grass helps send clean water to the Biscayne Aquifer — Palm Beach County's main source of drinking water.

The turf grass is the key. It filters out pesticides, chemicals and other pollutants before the rain water trickles back into the aquifer.

"[Golf courses] get a bad rap for water use, but they can absolutely help the environment," said Joellen Lampman of Audubon International. "Golf courses act as an extra filtering system for water that is high in salt, nitrogen and phosphorus."

Nitrogen and phosphorus are some of the top contaminants affecting water quality, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, but officials say that golf course managers can prevent these pollutants from hurting the water supply with calculated chemical applications that don't interfere with the soil.

"Turf grass has a really dense root system. It's a great water filter; it keeps water from running off site and captures it back onto the soil," said Betsy McGill, executive director of the Turf Grass Producers of Florida.

Kofi Boateng, Boynton's utilities director, said that golf courses are an important part of the water recycling process.

"Our golf course uses reclaimed water, and then that and rainfall goes down to the aquifer and then goes back into our pipes," he said. "When it rains a lot, we have more water to drink."

In May and June, the county saw an average of 21 inches of rain, which meant golf courses relied very little on irrigated water.

Palm Beach County's 142 golf courses collected more than 60 billion gallons of drinking water in 60 days, based on rainfall averages from the South Florida Water Management District and the 21,300 acres of golfing green in the county.

At the Links at Boynton Beach, the last two weeks of May brought more than 20 inches of rain to the 150-acre course, said Michael Low, Boynton's deputy utility director.

City officials say that the rainfall and the open green space helped send 80 million gallons to the local aquifer, more than the average golf course uses in irrigated water a year, according to Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.

"An 18-hole golf facility in the Southeast [United States] uses approximately 29 inches of irrigation water annually," said Greg Lyman, environmental programs director with Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. "This year in Palm Beach County, although extreme, golf courses have accepted nearly that same amount in rainfall."

Lyman said that golf courses shouldn't be written off as water hogs. Courses help by conserving reclaimed water, protecting water quality and controlling storm water.

"There is some value in this turf; while it does require irrigation, it also accepts water," he said. "In Palm Beach County there has been a lot of development in the last 25 years, but there are golf courses that have been there for 50 years or more, showing that there is a long-term value to the community."

Mark Frederick, 67, goes golfing in Palm Beach County about three times a week and said he isn't surprised that golf courses can help the environment, but all that really matters to him is that the grass is green.



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