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Watering golf courses

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03/31/2016 - More than 1.1 billion gallons. That's how much water golf course superintendents in Oakland County reported pumping out of rivers, lakes, streams and groundwater aquifers in 2014, according to records provided by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's (MDEQ) Water Use Reporting Program. With more than 60 golf courses in the area, Oakland County alone accounts for about 14 percent of all water withdrawals in the state for golf course irrigation more than any other county in Michigan. In comparison, together, Macomb, Wayne, Kent, and Kalamazoo counties account for about 18 percent of water withdrawal.

Using water pumps capable of pulling more than 70 gallons per minute from wells or the shallow surface of ponds, lakes, streams or rivers, local golf courses pump millions of gallons each season to maintain their green areas. However, such large water withdrawals can have negative consequences on individual aquifers and waterbodies, as well as the watershed basin as a whole.

In extreme cases, large water withdrawals from ground wells have lowered the levels of neighboring aquifers or disrupted the water quality of nearby wells. In Ottawa County, on the western side of the state, groundwater withdrawals about three years ago were taking water from aquifers faster than it could be replaced, forcing salty brine at the bottom of the aquifer to be sucked into drinking water and irrigation wells.

Excessive withdrawals also may lower water levels to the point where sensitive ecosystems can no longer survive. High-quality, cold-water streams, such as the Paint Creek sub-watershed in the Clinton River Watershed, are especially sensitive to temperature changes that may be exacerbated by water withdrawals. Yet, competing interests and a lack of research continue to muddy the clear impact of water withdrawals in Oakland County and across the state.

Scott Brown, executive director of the Michigan Lakes and Streams Association, said lawmakers need to take serious steps to protect the state's water resources. Brown, who serves on the state's Water Use Advisory Council, said those steps include providing funds to study the impacts of water withdrawals.

"You can't make generalities. Every instance whether it's a surface or groundwater withdrawal is completely different, depending on the quality and volume of groundwater, the aquifer, and precipitation, in terms of surface water," he said. "It's very tough to say 'x' withdrawal will have 'y' impact on a water resource. It's just very tough to do."

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