3 Water Management
Whether natural or manmade, surface water in the form of lakes, ponds, and streams has long been associated with golf courses. Natural lakes and ponds are usually connected to existing water sources, such as wetland areas. Irrigation impoundments (lakes, ponds, and constructed wetlands) can be incorporated into the design of a course and used both to manage stormwater and to function as a source for irrigation.
Overall, water management incorporates not only the information contained in this chapter, but many of the issues discussed throughout this document, including:
- Design considerations such as the use of vegetated buffers.
- Fertilization strategies near surface waters.
- Pesticide usage.
- Water quality monitoring.
In addition to planning for stormwater issues and protecting groundwater, water management should focus on lakes and ponds. Important parts of aquatic maintenance include managing components of aquatic habitats, such as algae and plant growth; reducing or preventing nutrient and sediment enrichment especially through the use of vegetated buffers; and ensuring that dissolved oxygen levels can sustain aquatic life.
Proper surface water management as discussed in this chapter and referenced in other chapters preserves the environmental quality of these water features, protects water quality downstream of the golf course, and conserves water.
3.1 Regulatory Considerations
3.1.1 Surface Water Quality
The EPA administers the protection of streams and lakes under the CWA. At the same time, DEQ creates state-specific regulations and water quality standards based on federal recommendations. Surface water quality is regulated under the CWA. DEQ is the state’s lead agency with regulatory authority for surface and groundwater quality.
The CWA requires states to prepare a list of impaired surface waters every other year. Impaired waters are those that do not meet the state water quality standards. From this list of impaired waters, states prepare TMDLs that include pollution control goals and strategies necessary to improve the quality of impaired waters and remove the identified impairments. TMDLs can include goals for nutrient loading (e.g. nitrogen or phosphorus). DEQ provides information on the TMDLs and a list of finalized TMDLs in the state.
In addition to developing TMDLs, DEQ is required to provide Congress with surface water quality reports every two years that describe the status and trends of existing quality of all waters in the state. The report also provides information about the extent to which designated uses are supported. DEQ combines this report with the impaired waters report into one integrated report, the Virginia Water Quality Assessment 305(b)/303(d) Integrated Report.
Impounding Structure Regulations (Dam Safety) (4 VAC 50-20) regulates dams in Virginia, unless a dam is specifically excluded from the regulations. These regulations cover construction, alteration of an existing impoundment structure, and operation and maintenance of the impoundments. For more information, see the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Dam Safety web page.
3.1.3 Aquatic Pesticides
Aquatic pesticides that control nuisance aquatic plants like Eurasian milfoil, as well as algaecides that control algae, are available from commercial distributors. Any herbicide used must be labeled for aquatic sites and registered with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) for use in Virginia. See the “Pesticide Management” chapter for more information on pesticide regulations.
In addition, a Virginia Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (VPDES) permit is required for the direct application of pesticides to surface waters. A general permit issued by the DEQ is available to operators who discharge pesticides to surface waters from the application of either biological pesticides or chemical pesticides that leave a residue, including pesticides used for weed and algae control. Applicators must be certified by the VDACS Office of Pesticide Services (OPS).
As with any pesticide application, the label must be followed. Labels on aquatic herbicides for algae control may specifically state that only a portion of the surface water area can be treated at one time to prevent massive algae and other plant die-offs and to avoid the low dissolved oxygen (DO) conditions that result from decaying organic matter.
3.1.4 Grass Carp
Biological practices such as the introduction of triploid (sterile) grass carp can be a useful component of a lake management strategy. Under state regulations (4 VAC 15-30-40), the introduction of grass carp requires a permit from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ Triploid Grass Carp Program, which typically involves an onsite inspection following submission of an application. Impoundments are usually approved if little chance exists for the fish to escape.
In Tidewater regions of the state, regulations require that a vegetated buffer area not less than 100 feet wide be located adjacent to and landward of all tidal shores, tidal wetlands, certain associated non-tidal wetlands, and along both sides of all waterbodies with perennial flow.
3.2 Stormwater Management
Best practices related to protecting the quality of surface waters center on preventing nutrients, chemicals, and sediments from reaching waterbodies and wetlands. Superintendents can effectively protect Virginia’s water resources by managing stormwater effectively, maintaining buffers, and considering the special needs of wetlands, floodplains, lakes, and ponds.
The control of stormwater on a golf course is more than just preventing the flooding of the clubhouse, maintenance sites, and play areas. Proper management of stormwater controls the amount and rate of water leaving the course, controls erosion and sedimentation, stores irrigation water, removes waterborne pollutants, enhances wildlife habitat, and addresses aesthetic and playability concerns. Stormwater runoff (also called surface runoff) is the conveying force behind what is called nonpoint source pollution. Nonpoint source pollution is caused by water moving over and through the ground, picking up and carrying away natural and human-made pollutants, and finally depositing them into surface waters (lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters) and groundwater. On golf courses, pollutants that might be found in surface runoff include, but are not limited to, pesticides, fertilizers, sediment, and petroleum.
Treating stormwater to avoid impacts to water quality is best accomplished by a treatment train approach in which water is conveyed from one treatment to another by conveyances that themselves contribute to the treatment. These treatments include source controls, structural controls, and non-structural controls. Source controls are the first car of the BMP treatment train. They help prevent the generation of stormwater runoff or the introduction of pollutants into stormwater runoff. The most effective method of stormwater treatment is to prevent or preclude the possibility of movement of sediment, nutrients, or pesticides into runoff.
The next car in the treatment system is often structural controls, which are design and engineering features of the course created to remove, filter, detain, or reroute potential contaminants carried in surface runoff. Examples of structural BMPs include ponds, constructed wetlands, and filters to address water quality, water recharge, and stream channel protection. Non-structural controls mimic natural hydrology and minimize the generation of excess stormwater and include vegetated systems. Vegetated systems such as stream buffers act as natural biofilters, reducing stormwater flow, removing sediments from surface water runoff, and preventing nutrient and pesticide discharge in runoff from reaching surface waters. The treatment train approach combines these controls, as in the following example: Stormwater can be directed across vegetated filter strips (such as turfgrass), through a swale into a wet detention pond, and then out through another swale to a constructed wetland system.
During any construction or redesign activity, proper erosion and sedimentation control must be followed (as discussed in the “Planning, Design, and Construction” chapter) to ensure that stormwater runoff does not impact water quality. Properly designed golf courses capture rain and runoff in water hazards and stormwater ponds, providing most or all of the supplemental water necessary under normal conditions, though backup sources may be needed during drought conditions.
3.2.1 Preventing Surface Runoff
Factors that affect nutrient mobility, availability, and accessibility can be evaluated to predict where and when nitrogen (N) contamination can potentially occur. BMPs related to this are designed to prevent the transportation of N to surface waters (Table 5). Soils data is needed for this assessment and is available from Web Soil Survey data for Virginia published by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
Table 5. Criteria for high potential to affect N transport to surface water as related to natural factors
|Surface water proximity||Adjacent land within 500 feet that slopes into the drainage network.|
|Soil aeration||Excessive, somewhat excessive, and well drained soils|
|Mobilization in solution||Soil hydrogeologic group C and D|
|Mobilization with sediment||K factor near 0.69 combined with soils in hydrogeologic groups C and D|
|Land slope||Slopes > 9%|
|Flooding frequency||Frequent flooding as defined by NRCS|
Buffers around the shore of surface waters, wetlands, or other sensitive areas filter runoff as it passes across the buffer. Buffers can be vegetated filter strips, such as those used as part of a stormwater treatment system. When used as a buffer along shorelines, stream banks, and wetland boundaries, filter strips are the last line of defense to keep sediment out of streams and to filter out fertilizers and pesticides that might otherwise reach waterways.
Depending upon site-specific conditions, including the amount of available space and in-play versus out-of-play considerations, a range of buffer widths can be considered. Buffer widths from 10 to 656 feet have been shown to be effective. In most cases, a buffer of at least 100 feet is necessary to fully protect aquatic resources. Smaller buffers (toward the lower end of this range) still afford some level of protection to the surface waters and are preferable to no buffer at all. Protection of the biological components of wetlands and streams typically requires buffer widths toward the upper end of the range.
For vegetated buffer zones, the installation of ornamental grasses, wetland plants, or emergent vegetation around the perimeter and edges of surface waters serves as both a buffer and wildlife habitat for many aquatic organisms, as well as being aesthetically pleasing. Use native plants for these plantings whenever possible. See the DCR publication Native Plants for Conservation, Restoration & Landscaping for more information.
Riparian buffers along streams and rivers can be up to three different plant assemblages, progressing from sedges and rushes along the water’s edge to upland species. Riparian buffers of sufficient width intercept sediment, nutrients, and pesticides in surface runoff and reduce nutrients and other contaminants in shallow subsurface water flow. Woody vegetation in buffers provides food and cover for wildlife, stabilizes stream banks, and slows out-of-bank flood flows. The DCR publication Riparian Buffers Modification & Mitigation Guidance Manual provides extensive guidance on riparian buffers.
Maintenance considerations for buffers to protect water quality include the following:
- Maintain healthy turf cover adjacent to surface waters to slow sediment accretion and reduce runoff flow rates.
- Plant shrubs and trees far enough from water edges so that leaves stay out of the water.
- Mow and clip vegetated filter strips, buffers, and riparian shrubs to avoid contributing nutrient inputs into surface waters. Return clippings away from the water or collect them (such as for composting in a designated area) so that runoff does not carry vegetation into the water.
- Mow buffers in-play areas situated in riparian areas to heights up to 4 inches.
- Use imaginative plant selection to help reduce nutrient content, such as small floating hydroponic rafts of plants whose roots draw nutrients from the water. These plants can be periodically harvested and composted, which removes nutrients from the water permanently.
- Periodically clean small basins, ponds, and forebays to remove sediments. Be aware that the effort, disruption, and financial outlay for this effort is less than that for dredging an entire body of water.
- As a general practice, all chemical applications should be kept 10 to 15 feet away from the water’s edge when using rotary spreaders and/or boom sprayer applications. When fertilizers or pesticides are needed, spot-treat weeds or use drop spreaders or shielded rotary spreaders and boom sprayers to minimize the potential for direct deposition of chemicals into the water.
3.3 Flood Recovery
When floods occur and turf is submerged for any length of time, the potential for turf death depends upon a number of factors, including the time of year; the length of time the turf is submerged; the depth of submersion; water temperature; and light intensity. Actively growing turf is most vulnerable; substantial loss can be expected after 4 days of continued submersion whereas dormant turf can be expected to survive longer submersion. If any of the leaf tissue is above the water line, the potential for survival is greater. Cooler temperatures also increase survival rates, due to lower water temperatures and lower light intensity.
Following a flood, turf injury can be evaluated by inspecting the turf crown and cross-sectioning. If the majority of the crown is alive, recovery can be monitored. If the majority of the crowns are dead (brown and mushy), aggressive over-seeding is called for.
The biological activity of plants, fish, animals, insects, and especially bacteria and fungi in a healthy, diverse wetland is the recycling factory of our ecosystem. Wetlands should be maintained as preserves and separated from managed turf areas by means of native vegetation, structural controls to protect water quality, and low/no maintenance activities to avoid nutrient or pesticide contamination.
Control structures located near floodplains, such as retention basins, store water and thereby reduce flooding and protect stream banks. These structures should be regularly inspected and maintained to ensure their proper function. Vegetated buffers along floodplains should be maintained to mitigate flooding, control stormwater, and protect water quality.
3.6 Lakes and Ponds
The management of lakes and ponds should include a clear statement of goals and priorities to guide the development of the BMPs necessary to meet those goals. Some of the particular issues superintendents should address to maintain the water quality of golf course lakes and ponds include:
- Pond design.
- Dissolved oxygen (DO) levels.
- Aquatic plant management.
- Near-shore management zones.
3.6.1 Pond Location and Design
Designing a new pond requires considerations such as the size of the drainage area, water supply, soil types, and water depth. In addition to potentially serving as an irrigation water source, ponds support aquatic life. The construction of ponds should consider the needs of aquatic ecosystems (e.g. DO needs for aquatic species and discouraging excessive growth of aquatic vegetation). Careful design may significantly reduce future operating expenses for pond and aquatic plant management.
3.6.2 Dissolved Oxygen
Dissolved oxygen is the amount of oxygen present in water and is measured in milligrams per liter (mg/L). Adequate DO levels are required to sustain life in aquatic organisms and vary by species, the organism’s life stage, and water temperature.
The amount of DO that water can hold depends on the physical conditions of the body of water (water temperature, rate of flow, oxygen mixing, etc.) and photosynthetic activity. Colder water has higher DO levels than warmer water. Dissolved oxygen levels also differ by time of day and by season as water temperatures fluctuate. Similarly, a difference in DO levels may occur at different depths in deeper surface waters if the water stratifies into thermal layers. Fast-flowing streams hold more oxygen than impounded water. Lastly, photosynthetic activity also influences DO levels. As aquatic plants and algae photosynthesize during the day, they release oxygen. At night, photosynthesis slows down considerably or even stops, and algae and plants pull oxygen from the water. In impoundments with excessive plant and algae growth, several cloudy days in a row can increase the potential for fish kills due to low DO during warm weather. Therefore, preventing excessive aquatic growth helps to maintain DO levels. The use of artificial aeration (diffusers) can also be used to maintain adequate DO, especially in small impoundments or ponds.
3.6.3 Aquatic Plants
Aquatic plants include algae and vascular plants. Phytoplankton, or algae, give water its green appearance and provide the base for the food chain in ponds. Tiny animals called zooplankton use phytoplankton as a food source. Large aquatic plants (aquatic macrophytes) can grow rooted to the bottom and supported by the water (submersed plants), rooted to the bottom or shoreline and extended above the water surface (emerged plants), rooted to the bottom with their leaves floating on the water surface (floating-leaved plants), or free-floating on the water surface (floating plants). The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries provides information on its Aquatic Plant ID and Treatment web page.
Aquatic plants are part of aquatic ecosystems. They provide a number of benefits, such as:
- Habitat for aquatic organisms (e.g. food and nesting sites).
- Shoreline stabilization.
- Aesthetic appeal.
Aquatic plants growing on a littoral shelf may help protect receiving waters from pollutants present in surface water runoff. Ideally, littoral zones should have a slope of about 1 foot vertical to 6-10 foot horizontal to provide the best substrate for aquatic plant growth. In open areas, floating-leaved and floating plants suppress phytoplankton because they absorb nutrients from the pond water and create shade.
Particularly in shallow or nutrient-enriched ponds, aquatic plant growth can become excessive. Non-native plants, in particular, can aggressively colonize aquatic environments. The excessive growth of any aquatic plant requires management. Following the principles laid out in the “Integrated Pest Management” chapter, a number of controls should be considered to deal with excessive aquatic plant growth, including:
- Prevention, such as reducing nutrient enrichment and avoiding the introduction of invasive species.
- Cultural practices, such as benthic barriers to prevent vascular plant growth.
- Mechanical removal.
- Chemical control.
Triploid (sterile) grass carp are allowed in Virginia with a permit and are sometimes used as a biological control for aquatic plants.
3.6.4 Shoreline Management
Special management zones should be established around the edges of lakes and ponds. The management specifications should include a setback distance when applying fertilizers, as well as reduced mowing. Grass clippings should be collected near shorelines, as the phosphorus and nitrogen in clippings can impact water quality when transported into waterbodies. Similarly, tree leaves near waterways should also be collected and not blown into or disposed of near surface waters.
The deposits of fecal matter by resident and migrating waterfowl (such as Canada geese) can substantially impact water quality through nutrient enrichment. On golf courses, shallow ponds with significant populations of waterfowl are most likely to be affected. In addition, large numbers of Canada geese can erode shorelines and thin the grass cover on greens and fairways, contributing to the potential for erosion. Efforts to control waterfowl have met with mixed success. Loud sounds, dogs, and hunting have been tried in order to deter them. However, many of these efforts do not lend themselves to golf courses, especially in more urban areas. For more information, see Managing Wildlife Damage: Canada Goose (Branta canadensis), VCE.
3.7 Groundwater Management
Protection zones around water supply wells and safe land-use practices that prevent leaching help protect aquifers from accidental contamination.
3.7.1 Preventing Leaching
Leaching refers to the loss of water-soluble plant nutrients or chemicals from the soil as water moves through the soil profile and reaches the saturated zone. Some of the factors that can influence leaching potential include the depth to groundwater, soil type and structure, geology, rate of precipitation, and amount of irrigation. When applying fertilizers or pesticides, the rate, timing, and location of applications should be considered to minimize the potential for losses due to leaching. Sandy soils, for example, have a low potential to fix phosphorus (P) and therefore are more likely to leach phosphorus, as well as nitrogen, than other soil types.
Nitrogen, in the form of nitrate (NO3-N), presents leaching concerns for groundwater quality. In Virginia, nitrate is one of the most widespread groundwater contaminants. Sandy or gravelly textured soils, excessively drained soils, and areas with shallow groundwater tables are most likely to leach nitrogen (Table 6). Fertilizers with a solubility of more than 30 mg/L (or 30 ppm) can pose a risk for leaching.
Table 6. Criteria for high potential to affect N translocation to groundwater as related to natural factors
|Soil aeration||Excessive, somewhat excessive, or well drained soils|
|Soil texture||Sandy, sandy-skeletal, or fragmental family particle size|
|Depth to aquifer||Less than 50 feet to the top of the saturated aquifer|
|Hydrologic recharge area||>20 inches to accumulations of calcium carbonate (CaCO3)|
3.7.2 Protecting Wellheads
Protecting wellheads from physical impacts and contaminants, keeping them secure, and sampling wells are all best practices for ensuring groundwater supplies of drinking water are adequately protected.
Before installing new wells, the well construction permit should be reviewed to determine any permitting and setback requirements. New wells should be located in areas that will maximize yield but also minimize potential contamination of source water such as being located up-gradient as far as possible from potential pollutant sources, such as petroleum storage tanks, septic tanks, chemical mixing areas, and fertilizer storage facilities. The completion of a preliminary wellhead protection area delineation and source inventory is therefore desirable prior to the installation of new wells. Once installed, activities that could contaminate the well should be prohibited in the protected area. In addition, most pesticide labels now prohibit mixing/loading pesticides within 50 feet (or other specified setback distances) from any well.
3.8 Water Management Best Management Practices
- Design stormwater treatment trains.
- Install berms and vegetated swales to capture pollutants and sediments from runoff before it enters irrigation storage ponds or other surface waters.
- Implement no- or low-maintenance vegetated buffer strips around surface waters.
- Utilize vegetated filter strips in conjunction with water filtration basins.
- Eliminate or minimize directly connected impervious areas.
- Use depressed landscape islands in parking lots to catch and filter water and allow for infiltration. When hard rains occur, an elevated stormwater drain inlet allows the island to hold the treatment volume and settle out sediment, while allowing the overflow to drain away.
- When possible, maximize the use of pervious pavements, such as brick or concrete pavers separated by sand and plants.
- After a flood, if turf has been submerged for any length of time, inspect the crowns and either monitor recovery or aggressively overseed as needed.
- Maintain appropriate silt fencing on projects upstream to prevent erosion and sedimentation.
- Natural waters cannot be considered treatment systems and must be protected. (Natural waters do not include treatment wetlands.)
- Establish a low- to no-maintenance buffer along wetlands, springs, and spring runs.
- Maintain stream buffers to restore natural water flows and flooding controls.
- Install buffers in play areas to stabilize and restore natural areas that also attract wildlife species.
- Install detention basins to store water and reduce flooding at peak flows.
Lakes and Ponds
- Maintain an unmowed, vegetated buffer strip (riparian buffer) to filter the nutrients and sediment in runoff, mowing only once or twice a year at most so that grasses and plants grow knee-high.
- If mowing near a pond or lake, collect clippings or direct them to upland areas so they do not increase nutrient loading to waterbodies.
- Maintain the required setback distance when applying fertilizers near waterways.
- Encourage clumps of native emergent vegetation at the shoreline.
- Maintain water flow through lakes if they are interconnected.
- Establish wetlands where water enters lakes to slow water flow and trap sediments.
- Maintain appropriate erosion and sedimentation controls on projects upstream to prevent sedimentation and nutrient enrichment to waterbodies.
- Dredge or remove sediment before it becomes a problem.
- Establish DO thresholds to prevent fish kills, which occur at levels of 2-3 mg/L.
- Reduce stress on fish by keeping DO levels above 5 mg/L.
- Manipulate water levels to prevent low levels that result in warmer temperatures and lowered DO levels.
- Use artificial aeration (diffusers), if needed, to maintain adequate DO.
Aquatic Algae and Plants Management
- Develop a comprehensive management plan that includes strategies to prevent and control the growth of nuisance aquatic vegetation.
- Keep phosphorus rich material (e.g. natural or synthetic fertilizers, organic tissues like grass clippings, or unprotected topsoil) from entering surface water.
- Install desirable native plants to naturally buffer DO loss and fluctuation.
- To control excessive aquatic plant growth, use an IPM approach that incorporates prevention, cultural practices, and mechanical removal methods in addition to chemical control.
- To reduce the risk of DO depletion, use an algaecide containing hydrogen peroxide instead of one with copper or endothall.
- Dredge or remove sediment as needed to improve aquatic habitat.
- Reverse-grade around the waterbody perimeters to control surface water runoff and to reduce nutrient loads.
- Discourage large numbers of waterfowl from colonizing golf course waterbodies.
- Identify areas on the course that may be prone to leaching (shallow depth to groundwater, sandy soils, etc.)
- Manage irrigation to avoid over-watering.
- Consider the potential for fertilizers or pesticides to leach before applying.
- Use backflow-prevention devices at the wellhead, on hoses, and at the pesticide mix/load station to prevent contamination of water sources.
- Follow pesticide labels for setback distance requirements (typically a minimum of 50 feet).
- Properly decommission illegal, abandoned, or flowing wells.
- Surround new wells with bollards or a physical barrier to prevent impacts to the wellhead.
- Inspect wellheads and the well casing routinely for leaks or cracks; make repairs as needed.
- Maintain records of new well construction and modifications to existing wells.
- Obtain a copy of the well log for each well to determine the local geology and the well’s depth; these factors will have a bearing on how vulnerable the well is to contamination.
- Develop a written Wellhead Protection Plan that minimizes environmental risk and potential contamination.