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Dry golf courses remain so green

By ASJYLYN LODER
Published February 6, 2007


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In an effort to keep the greens green through the drought, golf courses throughout the region guzzled far more water than they're entitled to.

"It's not unusual necessarily to see that during a drought," said Mike Molligan, communications director for the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the agency that oversees water use. "There has been an increasing trend since things have gotten dry."

From Sarasota to Citrus counties, golf courses overpumped anywhere from 2 percent to 55 percent more water than Swiftmud allows them. Some overpumped by more than 100,000 gallons a day. Several faced fines.

Golf courses aren't the only ones suffering. Public utilities are also struggling to control drought-driven water use.

Hernando County Utilities Department is under threat of fines as its customers gulp more than 2-million gallons a day over the utility's limit.

To counter overuse, Swiftmud set once-a-week watering restrictions for homeowners throughout the 16-county region.

As homeowners struggle to keep their yards alive, keeping private golf courses verdant may seem a frivolous use of a restricted water supply. Golf courses have their own permits with Swiftmud, and don't piggy-back on public utilities.

But Molligan said Swiftmud doesn't judge users on a merit system.

"If it's a business, it's someone's livelihood," he said. "They just have to live by the rules of the water use permit."

Chad Crites, superintendent of Citrus Springs Golf and Country Club, said it's difficult in dry weather to balance Swiftmud's restrictions against the complaints of golfers. The course is allowed 222,000 gallons per day. But watering went over by 35 percent - averaging 77,629 gallons a day over the limit.

"I thought we'd be cutting it close," Crites said. But he didn't know they'd go that far over.

First there was the summer rainy season that wasn't.

As summer drew to a close, Crites noticed water use spiking. Then in October, the course seeded winter rye.

Its bright green sprouts keep the course green through the winter cold. That required even more water, putting the course well over its limit.

"The only time I water now is when the greens are dry, and they need it," Crites said.

He doesn't want to run afoul of Swiftmud and risk fines. But he also has to keep golfers coming in order to keep the business going. The recent rainy weather provided some relief.

"As long as it keeps raining every now and then, we're okay," Crites said. "But once things start to burn out, you get complaints from everyone."

Several local courses remain under review for possible overpumping, including the Heather Golf and Country Club and Sherman Hills in Hernando County and Zephyr Springs Golf in Pasco County, according to Swiftmud.

Molligan said regulators understand the water demands of a drought.

But that doesn't get golf courses off the hook in dry years. They still have to stay within their permit.

Swiftmud regulates water use to protect the region's water supply from hazards like saltwater intrusion or drying out wetlands.

Conditions now resemble what is typically seen at the end of May, and without substantial rainfall, conditions could worsen, Molligan said.

While some parts of the region have received heavy rains, Swiftmud records indicate that rainfall has been 12 inches below normal overall.

"You've got rivers being impacted, lakes being impacted, aquifers being impacted and a variety of indicators showing that soils are dry," Molligan said.

That affects tourism and agriculture as well as the water supply. "Those are the things that make Florida Florida."

Asjylyn Loder can be reached at aloder@sptimes.com or 352 754-6127.

[Last modified February 5, 2007, 20:54:08]


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