Last Update :10/6/2009

"A Rise in Reclaimed" - Peter McDonough featured in this article from Superintendent Magazine

A Rise in Reclaimed

by Rocky Womack

Increased water demand will encourage use


During dry periods, a good water source to fall back on will help superintendents with irrigation needs and keep golfers playing. Courses across the country are turning to reclaimed or recycled water for those supplemental needs.

Reclaimed water can be used to irrigate golf course greens. Here, an employee of the Keswick Club cools down a green.
A 48-room luxury hotel overlooks the greens and fairways at The Keswick Club at Monticello in Keswick, Va.

“I think it’s going to be a resource that, as time marches on, people are going to have to adapt their thinking to using a lot more reclaimed, recycled water in Virginia,” says Peter McDonough, golf course superintendent of the Keswick Club at Monticello in Keswick, Va., just east of Charlottesville, Va.

Increased demand

McDonough believes reclaimed water use will rise in the U.S. based on two main factors: population growth and how close the available resource of natural water is to the source that needs it.

Virginia’s population climbed to 7.7 million according to the 2007 census, which is an increase of more than 633,000 residents since the 2000 census, according to the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. The major population growth has taken place in the metropolitan areas of Northern Virginia, Fredericksburg, Richmond and the Hampton Roads area.

“Growth in Virginia is driven by explosive expansion in Northern Virginia,” says Michael Spar, the center’s research associate of demographics and workforce who produced the annual population estimates. “Loudoun County alone has experienced a population increase of 62.5 percent since 2000, and accounts for one-sixth of the total population increase for the entire commonwealth. Virginia is increasingly becoming an urban state. The combined population living in Northern Virginia, Richmond and Tidewater is now at 5.3 million, or roughly seven out of 10 Virginians.”

That large of a population uses a lot of water, whether it’s for golf courses, parks, ball fields, schools, manufacturing or other users.

“Ultimately, it’s going to come down to how the population wagon drives the need for reclaimed water or more use of it,” McDonough says. Another important factor that may push the issue to the forefront is President Obama’s executive order to make the Chesapeake Bay a national treasure. His May 12, 2009 order amends the Clean Water Act of 1972, calling on federal, state and local governments, “to protect and restore the health, heritage, natural resources, and social and economic value of the nation’s largest estuarine ecosystem and the natural sustainability of its watershed.” The Chesapeake Bay’s federal government assets include public lands, facilities, military installations, parks, forests, wildlife refuges, monuments and museums. These all require the availability of clean water.

McDonough says that because Obama issued the executive order, the Environmental Protection Agency will become more involved to ensure “that we meet the federal Clean Water Act standards and the government’s resources to make sure that the federal Clean Water Act is enforced.”

The protection didn’t end with Obama’s executive order of the Chesapeake Bay. Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine announced on June 4, 2009, that he would join the governors of New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland to protect the ocean waters of the mid-Atlantic. The partnership would protect and improve the health of the ocean and coastal resources through improved coordination. It also would minimize jurisdictional barriers, ensuring that the resources contribute to the economic vitality and high quality of life of these states in the future.

These governors realize the importance of a readily available water source, whether it’s for drinking, irrigating or some other use. Part of Kaine’s efforts involves reducing nutrients released into these bodies of water. The governors’ partnership focuses on pollution originating from these sources. Since watersheds that feed into the oceans often spread over several states, increased coordination will allow for more effective reduction of harmful runoff from areas such as manufacturing, agriculture and the green industry.

Peter McDonough, golf course superintendent of the Keswick Club at Monticello in Keswick, Va., points out the power control panel outside the course’s wastewater treatment plant.

Two major concerns are the runoff of nitrogen and phosphorous into the state’s waters. The amount of nitrogen delivered into the bay by Virginia is estimated to be 27.2 percent, and the amount of phosphorous is 48.4 percent, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program. Realizing the concern, the Chesapeake Executive Council set new short-term goals to reduce pollution in the bay. The seven bay jurisdictions of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, New York and the District of Columbia have come up with two-year goals, called milestones, to clean up the bay. For instance, the milestones call for Virginia to reduce nitrogen runoff by 86 percent and phosphorous by 52 percent.

During Kaine’s administration, Virginia has invested $1.1 billion in sewage treatment plant upgrades to help clean the state’s rivers and improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and its coastal waters. The state has also invested $57 million since 2007 to partner with farmers on applying the best management practices to prevent agricultural runoff into rivers and streams.

So, what does all this have to do with your golf course? A lot, according to McDonough. The green industry isn’t immune to nutrient runoff and the need for water, but with a larger population using more water, there may be less to go around. The concern over water use has already resulted in some mandated reductions of nitrogen and phosphorous to make water sources healthier, and will likely increase the need for reclaimed water as an alternative use in the next 10 to 20 years. Once the recession ends and development starts to pick up again, the growth will probably continue. That will create an increased demand on water use.

“As the population increases, the demand will increase,” says Valerie Rourke, coordinator for water reuse and land treatment in the Office of Land Application Programs at the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) in Richmond, Va. Under a drought situation, especially in eastern Virginia, she says increased demand will become a problem if the state cannot replenish the amount of water used fast enough. Using reclaimed water can help.

If an organization, company or locality decides to participate in using reclaimed water, Rourke says they must follow a Level 1 or Level 2 priority of the minimum standard requirements of the DEQ’s Water Reclamation and Reuse Regulation. Under those requirements, end users are broken down into six categories based on how they determine to reuse the reclaimed water. The categories are urban-unrestricted access, irrigation-unrestricted access, irrigation-restricted access, landscape impoundments, construction and industrial. Turf falls under the irrigation-restricted access category with a Level 1 priority. For more information on this regulation, go to

Following reclaimed water regulations are important. “Everybody’s going to have to work together because, hopefully, that’s what the issue is going to come down to: what’s available for natural water use,” McDonough says. “What was available 40 years ago is not the same level of availability today, and the bottom line is they simply haven’t widened the lakes, streams and creeks. I think we all should have learned our lesson from seven years ago. Droughts can happen, will happen.”

Since the drought in 2002, he says the Virginia Turf Council, Virginia golf course superintendents and club manager associations, Middle Atlantic Professional Golf Association and a lot of different entities have worked closely together to improve water standards. “A lot of good things have come out of it,” McDonough says. “A lot of it is proactive with government leaders.”

Reclaimed water isn’t just something McDonough talks about. He was instrumental in establishing reclaimed water storage for supplemental use at the Keswick course a few years back. While the main water source for irrigation comes from an on-site lake, he estimates that reclaimed water amounts to a supplemental use of about 3 percent.

The process is simple. Keswick’s wastewater treatment plant filters wastewater according to state regulations, and then the water feeds into two underground storage tanks that hold a combined 100,000 gallons of reclaimed water. When the tanks fill up to a certain level, a pump kicks on and sends the reclaimed water to the lake.

Best management practices

For several years, McDonough has worked hard to educate government officials and green industry leadership about the importance of using reclaimed water. He also has stressed the need for increased water standards by all.

“It benefits us none at all to improperly use water, or fertilizer or pesticides, and that creates really poor playing conditions. Golf courses are the biggest green uptake of carbon dioxide and release oxygen, especially in really big cities where it’s all concrete. The benefits of all golf courses in Northern Virginia and the Washington, D.C., area are tremendous, simply because of their function of just being turf and grass and trees,” McDonough says.

One of the most valuable standards model that he believes Virginia localities and the green industry can follow is the best management practices (BMPs) established by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and that state’s golf course superintendents.

Florida’s BMPs cover everything concerning golf turf and how to operate a golf course dealing with environmental quality, air quality, soil and water quality, nutrients, pesticides, fertilizer application, calibration, horticultural practices, waste, wildlife habitats, water conservation, environmental monitoring, site analysis, design, construction and many other topics in various chapters.

These standards in a 136-page document can be viewed online at

Droughts and overpopulation can create water issues. McDonough believes in taking a proactive stance when it comes to water use, and he wants to see Virginia lead the way in recognizing those issues and develop a set of BMP standards for localities, golf courses and others to follow. He believes reclaimed water will come to the forefront of necessity, and he believes in learning from others who have gone through droughts and how they’ve handled the water shortage.

“The mother of necessity is tragedy,” he says. “When somebody else goes through it, at some point in time, you will. If you haven’t started that process, then get started so when it becomes crunch time it’s not an, ‘Oh my goodness.’ You’ve already been working with the government, been working with the regulators, working with the people who have influence on the ability to make the job succeed or fail.”

Based in Danville, Va., Rocky Womack has been writing for more than 25 years, and is a contributing writer for numerous national and international publications.

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