The city-owned Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe (N.M.) golf course was told by the state Environment Department to remove foliage from the irrigation pond to comply with the city’s discharge permit for storing and dispensing treated wastewater. Golf Course Manager Jon Weiss aims to turn two other ponds, used as water features on the course, into a new viewing site for birders.
Bird watchers in Santa Fe, N.M. are mourning the loss of small trees that once surrounded an irrigation pond at the city-owned Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe golf course, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported. The location was easily accessible for “birders” and a popular spot for migratory birds.
Cornell University’s ornithology laboratory website, eBird, lists 200 species that have been spotted over the years at the pond, The New Mexican reported. All may not be lost as the golf course manager looks to create a new site for bird watchers to engage in their pastime.
The state Environment Department said the foliage had to be removed from the irrigation pond to comply with the city of Santa Fe’s discharge permit for storing and dispensing treated wastewater at the municipal golf course, The New Mexican reported. Trees and shrubs must be cleared at least 5 feet back from the pond to prevent roots from damaging the clay lining and releasing effluent into the groundwater, an Environment Department spokesman wrote in an e-mail.
“The man-made ponds used for water storage, called impoundments, build hydraulic pressure that increases the likelihood of water in the ponds reaching groundwater when the clay liner becomes compromised by tree roots,” Matt Maez wrote.
Maez added the agency seeks to protect “the groundwater that Santa Feans depend on” from the ponds’ treated wastewater, which contains pharmaceuticals, herbicides, pesticides, and other organic and inorganic compounds, The New Mexican reported.
Birders mostly accepted the explanation, but a couple who were interviewed thought the agency was being too rigid and should allow some adjacent vegetation if it’s not shown to threaten the pond’s retention, The New Mexican reported.
“It’s terrible,” Tom Jervis of Audubon New Mexico said of the habitat loss. “A permit is only a piece of paper. It doesn’t really have anything to do with reality.”
The city has paused the cutting to see if some other solution can be found, The New Mexican reported. Maez wrote that the Environment Department is open to considering alternative methods for the city to comply with the discharge permit.
Meanwhile, Jon Weiss, the golf course Manager, aims to turn two other ponds, used as water features on the course, into a new viewing site for birders, The New Mexican reported. Weiss walked atop a berm above one pond, which is surrounded by vegetation. Cattails envelop the second pond, giving it a marshy appearance. Water is piped from the irrigation pond to fill both.
The project will involve replacing a broken recirculation pump that generates a stream between the ponds, Weiss told The New Mexican. Aside from the pleasant feel of a flowing stream, it would keep the water moving through the ponds so it doesn’t become stagnant, as it does now, creating a bluer, cleaner look, he said.
“This is much more aesthetically pleasing birding habitat,” Weiss said of the water features. “As a birder, I would much rather come here than the irrigation pond, which is a glorified holding tank.”
Weiss wasn’t just speaking theoretically, The New Mexican reported. He described himself as an avid birder who moved here in April from Eastern Tanzania, a global hub for migratory birds.
He told The New Mexican his goal was to turn Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe into an official bird sanctuary golf course, making it a multi-use recreational space.
When he took a group of birders, including from Audubon, to the two ponds, their response was “overwhelmingly positive” about converting them to a viewing site, The New Mexican reported. He said he initially thought they were troubled about losing bird habitat, but as he got deeper into the conversation, the main concern they expressed was loss of an accessible spot to birdwatch.
“There’s plenty of bird habitat on our property; we’ve got 1,100 acres here, many different water features,” Weiss said. “So the birds have places to go. It was the birders that didn’t have any place to go.”
Lonnie Howard, a local bird enthusiast, said she disagreed with the notion that birders care more about losing a longtime viewing site than the habitat, The New Mexican reported.
“It might be true for some birders who care only about the sport, but most birders I know are passionate about protecting habitat,” Howard said. “Most are conservationists. It’s heartbreaking to see that habitat destroyed.”
The other two ponds were already there, so they won’t replace the lost habitat, she told The New Mexican.
Still, Howard applauded Weiss for working with the regional Audubon to enhance another area of the golf course where treated wastewater has different permitting rules, The New Mexican reported.
“There’s some potential here,” she said. “It could be a real feather in the golf course’s cap if there could be consciously planned habitat for wildlife, and birders to share that golf course.”
Maez wrote in his e-mail that in contrast to the main storage pond, the irrigation water used on the golf course doesn’t reach groundwater because it’s absorbed in the grass and plants, The New Mexican reported.
Weiss said the plan was for the birders to enter a back gate, allowing a much shorter walk to the ponds than from the clubhouse, The New Mexican reported. But Jervis said the problem with the plan is people would have to go through the neighboring landfill to access the gate—and they’d be limited to the hours when the landfill is open.
The best option would seem to be creating a path from the clubhouse birders can use so they don’t get in golfers’ way and don’t risk getting hit by stray golf balls, he told The New Mexican.
“We want to be … good guests of the golf course, but we also want to get to those ponds,” Jervis said. “We just want to try to figure out a way to do that.”
Jonathan Hayes, Executive Director of Audubon Southwest, commended the golf course manager’s effort to fill a void caused by a regulatory action, The New Mexican reported.
“As birders, we tend to get attached to the places we like to go,” Hayes wrote in an e-mail. “But if [the ponds] could provide a comparable site, I’d imagine those birders that frequent the course would be willing to make the adjustment and move to a new area.”