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Golf course still exceeds its water limit

Sherman Hills Golf Club, in Ridge Manor West, has moved closer to receiving a fine.

By DAN DeWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 19, 2001


Last fall, water regulators warned three golf courses that they could face stiff fines if they did not reduce their water use.

Now, only one course, Sherman Hills, is consistently failing to comply with its permit from the Southwest Florida Water Mangement District, said Bill Bilenky, the district's general counsel.

"They have made some reductions, but they are still in violation," he said.

That means Sherman Hills Golf Club, in Ridge Manor West, has moved closer to receiving a fine, although it won't happen right away.

The golf course has been regularly violating its permit for about two years. The district first asked it and other violators to cut their water use in May. After more study, Bilenky sent a letter Nov. 22 warning the offenders of a possible fine. Still more study is needed before the district can proceed further, Bilenky said.

"We are doing one last analysis on them to ensure that they are still overpumping," said Bilenky, adding that the district must have ample evidence of violations because the case could wind up in court.

The district's next step would be to issue a consent decree, which amounts to a settlement offer. If the courses decline, the matter will move on to a state administrative hearing and then to circuit court, where a judge can levy a fine based on several factors, including the amount pumped. Fines can range from a few dollars to more than $100,000, he said.

The district's current records show that in the past 12 months, the course has pumped an average of 428,000 gallons per day, about 28 percent more than its permitted amount, 330,000 gallons per day, said Swiftmud regulator Paul Desmarais.

That is less, though, than the course has pumped in the past. Water use there, along with many other courses, began to increase as the drought worsened in 1999, Swiftmud documents show. It peaked last May, when the course used about 600,000 gallons per day. That is enough to fill about 40 average-sized backyard swimming pools, Bilenky previously said.

Sherman Hills' pumping declined slightly with last summer's rainfall and Swiftmud's imposition of new restrictions. These allow golf courses to water fairways once a week, and greens and tee boxes three times a week.

The two other courses warned last November, Whispering Oaks Golf & Country Club and Seven Hills Golfers Club, have decreased their pumping, Bilenky said, though Whispering Oaks is still exceeding its permitted amount of 265,000 gallons per day.

The course has pumped an average of 297,000 gallons per day over the year ending in February, the most recent figures available, Desmarais said.

"Whispering Oaks has responded to the notice of violation," Bilenky said. "They have shown appreciable reductions in withdrawals . . . their pumping is trending downward."

Bilenky said one other course, Rivard Golf & Country Club, is under investigation for possible overpumping.

"We're in compliance . . . You can come out and look. We're browner than dirt," said Steve Duxsted, Rivard's greens superintendent. He said he recently submitted incorrect pumping figures.

"We got a couple of months behind (in submitting pumping reports). I hurriedly got my numbers together, and I made a mistake in the addition."

Marion Walker, Sherman Hill's general manager, did not return a telephone call to the St. Petersburg Times on Wednesday. But in December, she said the course had tried to reduce its pumping as much as possible while protecting the course's turf.

"We've been in touch with Swiftmud, and we're doing our best," she said then.

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