Md. rejects golf course water plea

Industry must reduce use by 80% vs. 10%

claims discrimination

Officials find request vague

State will consider individual courses' waiver requests

August 15, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

State officials have rejected a plea from Maryland golf course owners to liberalize water conservation rules, sparking charges from the industry that they are being discriminated against, unlike other businesses -- such as carwashes -- whose requests for changes have been granted.

J. L. Hearn, director of water management for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said yesterday that the state turned down a request for a blanket change that would have allowed all 185 Maryland golf courses to cut water use by 10 percent rather than 80 percent.

"It was a decision that there wasn't adequate justification for granting a statewide variance," Hearn said.

The state faxed a letter to the Maryland Golf Course Owners Association denying the request Friday night.

Hearn said officials would clarify the rules tomorrow to allow golf courses to water newly seeded or sodded areas -- as homeowners are permitted to do -- and to use storm-water ponds or recycled water for parched fairway grass. Several golf courses have applied individually for waivers, and those are being considered, state officials said.

But golf industry officials were not happy with the state's response.

"We find it kind of odd that the carwash industry was granted a waiver in 24 hours, without going through the [drought waiver] process," said R. John Shields, president and owner of the Glenn Dale Golf Course in Prince George's County.

The MidAtlantic Carwash Association was granted a revision in the restrictions two days after they were first imposed Aug. 5 by Gov. Parris N. Glendening. Carwash industry officials had complained that several provisions in the statewide restrictions contradicted each other.

Wants face-to-face meeting

"I think we're definitely being brushed off. We'll try again, but I know we'll get the runaround like before," Shields said via cellular phone yesterday, as he prepared to tee off.

The golf industry, which officials say faces substantial losses if fairway grasses die, was denied a face-to-face meeting with top state officials. They were required to submit a formal water waiver application, and then had to wait five days before learning that their application had been denied, Shields said.

He also complained that no one from the turf industry is on the state's drought task force.

Request was too broad

Hearn said the golf association's request was too broad because it covered all the state's golf courses, and the water sources and the types of grass at each course vary greatly, he said.

"There was no specificity," Hearn said. "There's nothing in the application to indicate which courses had which needs."

Some use ponds, while others drain water from streams, and still others use wells. So-called bent grass is more delicate and needs more water than rye grass, he said.

The state's restrictions now allow for the minimal watering of greens and tees, but are not specific about watering the fairways

Golf course owners want to talk to state officials in person to draft changes that could be tailored to the differences in courses and their water needs and sources, Shields said. The application was "broad," he said, because that's what state officials asked for.

A typical golf course might use up to 250,000 gallons of water a day during summer to keep fairways and greens in top condition. Local environmentalists have backed the state's restrictions, arguing that to restrict homeowners' water use while giving golfers a freer rein would send the wrong message to the public.

Fairway grass may die

Speaking from a car phone yesterday as he passed a golf course near Easton, Hearn said he observed no obvious permanent damage.

"The grass is dormant and not dead," he said.

But a turf-grass agronomist at the University of Maryland, College Park said Friday that the state's restrictions will likely cause fairway grass to die. Peter H. Dernoeden said the water needed to replant the dead areas would likely exceed the amount needed to keep current grass alive, not to mention the expense of replacement.

Hearn said discussions with the golf industry earlier last week involved a possible change from an 80 percent reduction in water use to perhaps 50 percent for courses. The owners had sought a 10 percent reduction.

Most other businesses were asked to cut water consumption by 10 percent, which rankles course owners.

"They've let every other business off the hook, and we're the only one they've got left," Shields said.

He said he thinks the tough water restrictions for golf courses may be more about public relations than reality.

"They don't want to look wishy-washy," Shields said.

Meanwhile, the Brunswick Volunteer Fire Company has won permission from state officials in Washington County to use up to 30,000 gallons of water Aug. 29 to create enough mud for their annual fund-raiser -- driving big-wheel trucks through man-made mud.

Hearn said yesterday, however, that that decision is subject to further review.

Glendening spokesman Michael Morrill said the Brunswick decision was based on the financial hardship the fire company would incur by not holding the annual event on which it has spent $8,000. He, too, allowed that it was subject to review.

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