Golf course water cuts `unfair'

Course owners ask governor to ease 80 percent reduction

Courses seek 10% cutback

Officials consider allowing water use from holding ponds

August 14, 1999|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

Maryland golf course owners have asked the governor to lift his order curbing their water use, saying their businesses will be crippled if it remains in place.

In a letter this week to Gov. Parris N. Glendening and state environmental officials, the Maryland Golf Course Owners Association complained that its members were unfairly singled out in being ordered to cut water consumption by 80 percent.

Most other state businesses were asked to reduce water use by 10 percent voluntarily. The association is asking that the mandatory cutback at golf courses be 10 percent as well. The group applied for the change on behalf of the state's nearly 200 golf courses.

Golf courses are major water consumers, using as much as 250,000 gallons of water a day during dry summer months to keep fairways lush and greens sparkling, experts say.

State officials said they are reviewing the course owners' request and expect to rule on it early next week. One possibility under consideration is to allow unrestricted use of water from holding ponds and other sources that don't involve drinking water.

R. John Shields, owner of the Glenn Dale Golf Course in Prince George's County and the association president, said the order that courses reduce water use by 80 percent is unrealistic.

"We're not happy because of the economic hardship it puts upon us," Shields said.

But Christopher B. Bedford, chairman of the Sierra Club's Maryland chapter, said the state would be "sending the wrong signal" if it eases restrictions on golf courses while asking homeowners and others to keep up their conservation efforts.

Many golf courses draw water from wells that tap into underground aquifers, he said. The drought is seriously depleting aquifers in some areas of the state, leaving homeowners with dry wells.

"To take water people need for living to keep a golf course green is just nonsense," Bedford said. "There's only so much water to go around. Maybe we won't have fairways because we need water for more essential things."

Shields and Christopher R. Ayers, treasurer of the Mid-Atlantic Golf Course Superintendents Association, complained that the governor's order would leave large sections of fairway grass dead.

It would be expensive to replace, they said, and deteriorated conditions would cost Maryland courses business as some duffers head for greener fairways in Virginia and elsewhere. "Right now, we're looking at catastrophic losses of grass," Ayers said.

Shields noted that mandatory restrictions were quickly eased for commercial car washes so they could stay open, and exceptions also were granted to allow sports fields to be watered.

"We feel like the Rodney Dangerfield of business right now," Shields said. "I mean we're not getting any respect at all. Who else is left with this mandatory restriction other than us? Nobody's at 80 percent other than us."

Peter H. Dernoeden, a turf grass agronomist at the University of Maryland, College Park, agreed that cutting back by 80 percent would not provide enough water to keep fairway grass alive.

"Basically, they will not only lose business, but it will lead to the death of many acres of turf," Dernoeden said. "It will cost them a huge amount of money -- hundreds of thousands of dollars -- to recover these areas

"I would think the amount of water that would be required to re-establish these dead areas would exceed the amount needed to keep them alive," he said.

Dernoeden said a 30 percent reduction by golf courses would be more realistic.

Shields said course owners are willing to negotiate the amount of the reduction, but said state officials won't return their calls.

Mike Morrill, an aide to Glendening, said the state wants to see golf courses get enough water to keep grass from reaching "the point where it would be extraordinarily costly to replace it." But he said some grass is bound to die as water use is cut back.

"They are major water consumers," Morrill said. "This is a major water emergency, and they will take a larger hit because they are so dependent on water. The governor's always been clear this is going to impact certain industries."

Pub Date: 8/14/99

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