4 Water Quality Monitoring
Regularly scheduled water quality monitoring can be both preventive and curative in terms of environmental impact. The public perceives that water sources on golf courses are contaminated with nutrients and chemicals applied in turf management. However, as demonstrated in a high-profile research project conducted at Purdue University’s North Golf Course, a properly designed and managed golf course can actually improve the quality of the water entering golf courses from stormwater runoff originating from neighboring farmland and residential development (Kohler et al. 2004).
Water quality monitoring measures the likely origin and extent of sedimentation and nutrient inputs and impacts to surface water and groundwater. Using monitoring data, management strategies can be altered if the need for corrective action is identified. In addition, water quality monitoring of irrigation sources (particularly water supply wells and storage lakes) provides valuable agronomic information that can inform nutrient and liming programs.
If budgetary concerns limit the scope or frequency of sampling, water quality monitoring should concentrate on the water sources with the most significant impacts on the surrounding environment. In addition, a group of area golf courses can purchase water sampling equipment to share among their facilities.
In addition to monitoring water quality from golf course management operations, superintendents will want to regularly test irrigation water, such as that from retention ponds. Information on irrigation water quality testing is provided in Section 2.4.2: “Irrigation Water Quality.”
4.1 Existing Water Quality Information
Several sources of existing surface water and groundwater monitoring data may be available that can provide baseline information for a course-based water quality monitoring program. These potential data sources include:
- DEQ VEGIS datasets.
- United States Geological Survey (USGS) Surface-Water Data for Virginia.
- EPA’s How’s My Waterway tool.
4.2 Developing a Water Quality Monitoring Program
A water quality program begins with the development of a monitoring plan. The plan should identify specific conditions such as the presence of a watershed, stream flows, soil type, topography, drainage, and vegetation. In addition, the plan needs to document the hydrologic conditions and drainage, monitoring objectives, monitoring locations and frequency, and monitoring parameters. Baseline reference conditions can be established by collecting upstream water samples and comparing them with collection sites downstream of the areas influenced by golf course management practices.
Surface water collection sites can include streams, rivers, ponds, wetlands, etc., with the number and location of collection sites dependent upon the monitoring objectives. For example, a simple monitoring program can consist of the collection of DO data in surface waterbodies to ensure that these waterbodies can support aquatic life. Regardless of the extent of the monitoring program, the location of monitoring sites should remain consistent over time to establish trends in data.
A more comprehensive monitoring program should include both field measurements at the time of sampling and analytical testing. Field measurements include pH, temperature, specific conductance, and DO. Lab testing should be conducted by a certified laboratory. Typical testing parameters include nutrients (such as nitrates and phosphorus), total dissolved solids (TDS), alkalinity, sediments, and selected pesticides used on the course. For more information on surface water monitoring programs, sampling procedures, and parameters specific to golf turf, the 1st edition of Environmental Best Management Practices for Virginia’s Golf Courses can provide detailed guidance.
Developing a water quality monitoring program on golf courses is often limited to surface water monitoring. Sampling of stream with benthic macroinvertebrates is a useful addition to a monitoring program, as composition and diversity of these species can be used as a relative assessment tool for stream health. For more information, see New Mexico State University’s Stream Biomonitoring Using Benthic Macroinvertebrates. Such sampling can often be undertaken by university students in fulfillment of course work, by watershed association volunteer groups, or by other volunteer monitoring efforts.
In some instances, groundwater monitoring may be desired. Groundwater monitoring from wells located at the hydrologic entrance and exit of the course may be the best way to evaluate a golf course’s impact on water quality. If groundwater monitoring data from these locations are not available from existing sources, monitoring wells at the hydrologic entrance and exit of the course can be installed by private installers. Groundwater quality parameters can be limited to test only the ones directly influenced by course management, such as levels of pesticides and organic and inorganic nitrogen.
Water quality monitoring of irrigation sources (particularly water supply wells and storage lakes) provides valuable agronomic information that can influence nutrient programs. Immunoassay analysis may be a possible and cost-effective method for monitoring, depending on the analytical goals and the number of samples. To save money, several golf courses could pool resources and share immunoassay analyzer equipment and kits. See the “Irrigation” chapter of this document for more information on irrigation water quality issues.
4.3 Interpreting Water Quality Testing Results
Interpretation and use of water quality monitoring data depends to a large extent on the goal of the monitoring program. For example, the results may be analyzed to compare:
- Values over time.
- Values following implementation of BMPs, such as IPM measures.
- Monitoring points entering the site and leaving the site.
Results should also be interpreted and compared with the state’s water quality standards, if water quality standards have been established for the parameter being evaluated. Data analysis can also be used to identify issues that may need corrective action, based on findings such as a spike in nutrient levels. For example, operator error in nutrient applications, an extreme weather event, or some combination of factors may be responsible. Water quality problems can often be addressed by simple changes to a course’s existing nutrient management program.
4.4 Water Quality Monitoring Best Management Practices
Developing a Water Quality Monitoring Program
- Review existing sources of groundwater and surface water quality information.
- Develop a water quality monitoring program.
- Establish baseline quality levels for water.
- Identify appropriate sampling locations and sample at the same locations in the future.
- Visually monitor/assess any specific changes of surface waterbodies.
- Follow recommended sample collection and analytical procedures.
- Conduct seasonal water quality sampling. The recommendation is four times per year.
- Partner with other groups or volunteer water quality monitoring programs if possible, to share data and monitoring costs.
Interpreting Water Quality Testing Results
- Compare water quality monitoring results to benchmark quality standards.
- Use corrective measures when necessary.