When it comes to the sustainable management of the world’s golf courses, irrigation has always been a hot-potato issue. To help clarify the issues surrounding this controversy, researchers from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands recently published the results of a 25-year study that analyzed the way one of Spain’s oldest golf courses uses reclaimed water for irrigation. The researchers concluded that the course’s plants are overwatered by an astonishing 83 percent.
“Excessive amounts of water are used…this cannot be justified from any perspective,” according to lead author Maria del Pino Palacios Diaz of the university’s Department of Animal Pathology, Animal Production and Food Science and Technology.
Although the cost of water in the area is considered exorbitant, local golf courses continue to use more water than necessary. Overwatering the plants by such a high percentage helps to keep substances from building up in the soil, but raises the chance that the water in the aquifer beneath the area will be contaminated.
The study, published in the Spanish Journal of Agricultural Research, also examined the effect on the environment of using reclaimed water that had previously been desalinated for human use. Although this study only examined the effects on one course, Palacios Diaz believes the results could apply to other courses “in semi-arid or arid areas… with similar soil characteristics.”
The golf course that was studied is irrigated with desalinated water that has been reclaimed and desalinated again. Reclaimed water is used in an attempt to lower the environmental impact of maintaining a lush green space in a naturally dry area. However, according to the researchers, there is more to protecting the environment than using recycled water. “The combination of water with low salinity and a high proportion of exchangeable sodium… can have a negative impact on the structural stability of soil, which loses fertility…because of losing its capacity to drain away water,” said Palacios Diaz.
In addition, the researchers say that the quality of the water isn’t the only thing golf courses who wish to practice sustainable management should be concerned about. They should also be concerned about how much water is used and how often it is used. “It is assumed that the consequences only depend on the quality of the water, when in fact the other factors normally have a greater influence,” according to the study.
Does that mean it’s time to put your golf clothes in mothballs? There’s no need for such drastic action, according to researchers. They suggest courses try “adapting the species and varieties…choosing types that are more tolerant of salinity and…reducing the cleaning requirements.” Interestingly, the course that was studied had done precisely that, but had never followed through by reducing the amount of water the plants were given.
As a result, the researchers call for watering amount and frequency to be calculated based on the needs of the plants used. Currently, local laws require the use of reclaimed water but do not address the sustainability criteria for the use of reclaimed water on golf courses. The reason behind this may be the complexity of the issue. According to the authors of the study, “Such criteria are poorly understood and, as a result, are generally not fulfilled.”