(Photo of David Levin by Peter Willott, The St. Augustine Record)
Anticipating population growth that is expected to increase demand by over 100 million gallons daily by 2035, the St. Johns River Water Management District in northeast coastal Florida has turned to golf course properties for help in reducing pressure on the region’s underground water supplies. The course design and practices of the staff led by Superintendent David Levin at The Palencia Club in St. Augustine, Fla. have proved that “water-intensive recreational facilities and resource sustainability can coexist,” a District report stated.
The St. Johns River Water Management District in northeast coastal Florida has turned to golf course properties as part of its efforts to reduce pressure on underground water supplies in the region, The St. Augustine (Fla.) Record reported. And The Palencia Club in St. Augustine has been commended by the district for its water-management efforts.
“Golf courses [at properties] like The Palencia Club are proving that water-intensive recreational facilities and resource sustainability can coexist,” a recent article from the water management district recently stated, The Record reported. “Contrary to commonly held beliefs, recent studies show that many golf courses—especially those built or redesigned within the last decade—are among the state’s most efficient water users.”
The developer of The Palencia Club planned its golf course with a “sustainable design,” The Record reported. Those efforts included using “drought-tolerant native vegetation along its fringes with a high-tech sprinkler system and minimal turf,” according to the district. The irrigation system for the 18-hole course mostly draws from an 18-acre pond.
“Most of the water used to irrigate the course is recycled by capturing stormwater runoff in the pond and pumping it to the irrigation system,” according to the district, The Record reported. “A backup well provides water during dry spells but is rarely needed.”
The irrigation system software allows David Levin, The Palencia Club’s Superintendent, to control each irrigation head. “As we can cut back on our water, it also cuts back on our electricity bill,” Levin told The Record.
The District—a state agency that protects long-term water supply and water health in northeast Florida and beyond—has been encouraging golf courses to use less water, The Record reported. To reduce the demand on drinking water, “the district requires golf courses to use the lowest-quality water available for irrigation,” according to its recent article.
“Our regulatory staff have successfully worked with many golf course [properties], such as The Palencia Club, to convert water used for irrigation from potable water to reclaimed water, stormwater or both,” Paula Presley, a hydrologist with the District’s Bureau of Water Use Regulation, said in an article featured on the District’s website. “Since 2000, the district has issued about 200 consumptive-use permits [CUPs] to golf courses, and has required all of them to incorporate water-conserving practices.”
Florida’s underground aquifers support the public water supply, The Record reported, and while the aquifers collect rain, “Fickle weather cycles with abundant rain followed by drought cannot replace the millions of gallons of water that are used daily by a growing population,” according to the District. “Although Florida receives an average of 50 to 55 inches of rain per year, about 65 percent of that evaporates.”
Officials are working to deal with an expected increase in water demand over the next 15 years, The Record reported. The North Florida Regional Water Supply Plan for 2015-2035 from the North Florida Regional Water Supply Partnership, which is involved with the St. Johns River Water Management District, focused on 14 North Florida counties.
The effort found that fresh groundwater alone wouldn’t be able to support demand in about 20 years “without causing unacceptable impacts to water resources,” according to the partnership, The Record reported.
The demand in the St. Johns River Water Management District and the Suwannee River Water Management District combined was expected to increase from about 551 million gallons per day in 2010 to about 667 million gallons per day in 2035, according to the North Florida Regional Water Supply Plan, The Record reported. The population in those districts combined was expected to increase by about 676,000 in that time frame.
But the plan includes conservation strategies that could reduce the expected demand in 2035 “by as much 54 million gallons per day,” the plan noted.
Another way in which communities are saving water is by using reclaimed treated wastewater. The infrastructure for using reclaimed water is not currently available for The Palencia Club, Levin told The Record, but the course would have to implement it if it were available.
St. Johns County has put $18.4 million into a water reclamation infrastructure in the last six years, including building water reclamation facilities, according to county officials, The Record reported. The county provides reclaimed water for irrigation to 10 golf courses, including courses at the World Golf Village and TPC Sawgrass, among others.
“The county continues to expand the use of highly treated wastewater to offset recreational and landscape irrigation,” according to a statement from the county, The Record reported. “In 2020, [50%] of the County’s effluent was reclaimed and redistributed for irrigation to ten golf courses and 1,600 residential accounts, preserving 1.2 billion gallons of water for drinking purposes.”