Where would your water come from if golf clubs were banned from using mains resources?

16 July 2020 Feature Article
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Evaluating sprinklers for operation and nozzles. Image by Adrian Mortram


Listen to the Esi Water Awareness podcast 2020 here.

The past 10 weeks have shown all of us the importance of family, community and colleagues providing help and support during a truly exceptional event that has touched us all – some more than others.

The impacts on golf as the industry tries to recover will be far reaching and long lasting. Many golf facilities had limited reserves to cover a long period of closure without significant hardship. The Government-based schemes and funding will hopefully help to cover much of the fixed expenses of operations and the return to golf appears to offer reason for hope with new members signing up and bookings apparently buoyant.

As the industry views the longer‑term planning once more, it is imperative that water availability and broader environmental management is considered central to sustainable (environmental and financial) management to provide protection from climate change and increasing competition for resources.

Over the last few years Tony Hanson, managing director of Environmental Solutions International (Esi), has been spending an increasing amount of time working with clients on water resilience – essentially securing their water supply to protect their future.

If the last few summers and winters have shown us anything, it is that weather patterns appear to be changing, resulting in increasing numbers of named winter storms and flooding, along with longer drier periods in the summer.

Our most recent winter, of 2019/20, was the fifth wettest and fifth mildest on record. The UK then experienced the wettest February on record, with three named storms hitting the UK and 237% of long‑term average rainfall that month.

But we can go from one extreme to the other very quickly. In more recent months, the UK experienced the fifth driest and the sunniest spring on record.

Unfortunately golf was temporarily stopped and we all stayed at home in response to the pandemic.

The BIGGA survey on irrigation last year provided some insight to the position of the golf industry with regards to water resilience – if we borrow from ecology, the best way to describe the golf industry is to say that it is now on the endangered list.

To explain we can look at the key points from the respondents to the BIGGA Survey:

  • Just under 50% of golf facilities rely on mains potable water supply for irrigation (water industry suggests 66% use mains)
  • 74% of irrigation systems are more than 20 years old

In summary, we have an excessive dependence on mains water that is very visibly thrown on greens, tees and fairways and mostly old irrigation systems during summer periods when water companies and the Environment Agency are struggling to access and process sufficient supply for domestic use.

Morally it seems wrong that we would even consider using such high‑quality water for irrigation. The country faces growing demands for water and with population increasing in future, surely this can only be seen as a reputational disaster for the golf sector!

Golf clubs shouldn’t be reliant on mains water for their irrigation needs and clubs should explore all possible alternatives. There’s plenty of help out there – from water companies, the Environment Agency and Environmental Solutions International.

I can almost hear you say, “but it rained all winter” and you are right, so what happened to the water? At present, most water companies currently have a good amount of water stored in reservoirs.

However, during the warm, dry, recent weather, water companies have faced record demand for water. On hot days and during peak usage times, customers all around the country are using water faster than it can be safely treated and pumped through the underground network of pipes. As demand increases, this will inevitably reduce reservoir levels quicker than normal, as is already being demonstrated in some areas.

If golf clubs rely on mains water for irrigation then they are more at the mercy of external factors like the weather – clubs risk losing supply during droughts, when there’s temporary use bans, or at any other time from supply interruptions.

Having storage onsite gives golf clubs water security with a ready supply at hand. Clubs can continue irrigating using water from their own reservoirs and lakes, even when restrictions are in place, as this water is now theirs. Onsite storage really is key to increasing resilience and maintaining water supply through drought periods.

I saw many images of land drainage pipes being installed, cleared and un‑plugged during the winter with water being channelled off golf courses and similar images of water courses and
rivers allowing flood water to flow towards the sea.

Water companies’ storage capacity is not based on the volume of rainfall, it is set by the volume of reservoirs and licence abstraction limits set by the Environment Agency.

Groundwater storage also provides a significant volume of water storage, although flows to springs and watercourses result in a natural loss, with the balance often accounted for from abstraction by water companies and industry. In truth many of the chalk streams in the north of London and parts of the south of England have been almost completely lost to over abstraction and many had only marginal flows even after the exceptional rainfall of 2019/20.

What about leaks? Our water infrastructure is old, costly to maintain and difficult to access (God bless the Victorians), while water companies have their supply price monitored by the Water Services Regulation Authority (OFWAT) to ensure it is not overpriced.

The price controls ensure water is cheap (for your £1 500ml bottle of Evian you could have 1,200 bottles of tap water from Thames Water) and the result is that budgets are tight and replacing all the supply infrastructure is too costly and disruptive. Also consider the accuracy of the leakage estimates in a system similar to an irrigation system; you can measure the influent at your pump set but unless you have meters at each sprinkler head to check the same volume comes out you have no idea where it has gone.

It is only in the last few years that water companies have been installing meters to help fully understand consumption and now hopefully with smart meters to look at real time data.

So, can we agree the water companies have a tough time, low budgets and the water supplied free to your tap is incredibly cheap?

The Environment Agency, among other things, has to manage competing demands for abstraction along with the environmental impacts of over abstraction on water quality, ecology and health.

The 2020 National Water Framework Strategy provides a balancing act of the competing demands following lengthy consultations in which Esi was involved.

Esi is also closely involved with a number of other water resource groups established to implement the national strategy at a regional level, drawing on knowledge and developing specific projects and stakeholder engagement programmes.

Population growth in the UK is happening fastest in the driest regions, such as the South East, London and East Anglia. These areas have existing water stress and erratic weather patterns and further population growth will only increase the pressure on the limited water supply.

The golf sector needs to plan for flood alleviation and self‑sufficient irrigation, because a course can’t survive without water. Water is a big vulnerability for the entire sector so planning needs to happen now, not in the future.

In terms of the investment calculation it is no longer sensible to look at mains water as your benchmark for the cost of supply. It is too easy to use the long return on investment as an excuse for inaction. It would be more sensible to think what you will do when mains water is no longer available for irrigation.

There is a very real risk that mains water for golf irrigation will not be possible in the next few years.

If the water company figures are right based on metered supply, 1,100 out of the 1,900‑plus golf facilities in England could lose mains irrigation.

Do you have time to find an alternative before that day?

Continue the conversation: @tonyhansonEsi

Sponsored Content

Rain Bird| Rain Bird recommends use of key irrigation system features

After an exceptionally dry spring, Rain Bird Central Control users have the ability to utilise an important feature for managing course conditions and optimising water efficiency.

Alastair Higgs, golf district manager for the UK, recommends use of the evapotranspiration (ET) Central Control feature to save time, water and money by addressing the plant’s needs based on exact weather and ground conditions.

He explained: “Different species have different ET rates and turfgrass can be irrigated to achieve different objectives, so use of the ET mode puts complete control of course conditions in the user’s hands. It’s important to ensure control system and in‑field set‑up is accurate.

"Inputting data from the field including spacing (shape, type and distance), rotor type and nozzle set‑up, flow rate and arc details allows the Central Control to have an accurate precipitation rate for the station. In ET mode, the system will establish run times based on these rates and the ET percentage to be applied, so it’s vital this information is kept up to date if changes occur in the field. It’s also possible to run part of your system in ET mode. Setting all areas bar the greens is a practice often used to allow you to focus daily attention and data reading to the greens, knowing your system is looking after the rest of your course in real time.

"When not using ET mode, the system will reference a standard run time.”

ET control and reporting is available to all Rain Bird Central Control users, including Stratus LT, Stratus II, Nimbus 2 and Cirrus.

Terralift| 'Use your water better' says David Lowe

"Use your water better," says David Lowe, the head greenkeeper at Bawtry Golf Club.

David has 21 years behind him at Bawtry and said he finds the greens perform better if kept a bit moist against the dry winds and periods of little rain.

"Regular irrigation is important on our greens as they play better when they are kept a little more moist," he explained.

"We used to suffer regular wind burn and dry spots, which impacted on ball roll and aesthetics even after ample amounts of water. Wetting agents helped but never to the extent we hoped for."

In 2014 David had the irrigation water tested by Terralift and discovered that although it had an acceptable 7.2pH, it was a high bi‑carbonate water.

"I introduced Quadrop irrigation additive from Terralift into my irrigation water and seeing was believing!" said David. "The dry spots reduced significantly, grass colour improved and even after rain the greens got greener in colour, which was a fantastic bonus when normally you would be waiting days for a change like that to occur when coming out of a dry period.

"Get your irrigation water fully tested, there is no better advice."

David went on to explain how the club backed off wetting agent use for a number of years, until sinking a new 120metre bore hole that gained access to an aquifer. This water proved to have similarities to the existing 18metre deep source, but was different in that it has a 7.8pH with a lower bicarb reading, which responds just as well to Quadrop infusion. The club upgraded to a 48,000lt irrigation tank and now has enough water security to meet its needs.

David added: "This investment in water security, storage and Quadrop treatment has allowed us to produce great greens with significantly less trouble than when we were relying on water and surfactant use only. We can now irrigate our greens nightly with no negative impact and when our tee boxes and approaches need a lift the Quadrop irrigated water gets these areas back into condition rapidly.

"The amount of water required to do this has reduced as the water is now able to penetrate deeper into the root zone and is not as susceptible to wind and evaporation. The greens appear to stay hydrated for longer. We have introduced some wetting agent again as my confidence has increased in it doing the job it describes due to the improved and better irrigation water quality.

"Quadrop is a reliable and effective tool but we only realised we were missing it after we tried it! I hand dose the Quadrop solution into my tank daily when it is refilling. I intend to install an automatic dosing unit in the near future to give me more accuracy and save time.

"Water is a precious resource and we should all try and use it better."

For more information contact Alex McDermott Tel: 07969 305 164 or [email protected]

Aquatrols| Making the most of your essential irrigation

Ensuring the efficacy of your irrigation has never seemed more vital.

The long, wet winter we endured, followed by very little rain since the beginning of April, means the contributory factors of water repellency really start to add up.

There are various ways to tackle this problem with understanding hydrophobicity being top of the list, followed by assessing your situation and ensuring that your essential irrigation and applied product is actually getting into the soil profile.

What happens when water, either irrigated or from rainfall, can’t get through that top layer? This is most commonly referred to as water repellency.

Causes of water repellency

Hydrophobicity in the soil profile is a wax‑like coating that accumulates on soil particles and is a by‑product of organic matter decomposition.

It can also be caused by plant root exudates and fungal hyphae and is exacerbated by wet/dry cycles.

Water repellency causes water movement problems in two ways:

  1. At the surface, it impedes water’s movement into the soil, sitting on top and evaporating or running off
  2. Below the surface it can also disrupt water’s ability to move freely through the rootzone. This results in uneven distribution of water and can also lead to preferential flow patterns where the water takes the 'easy way' through the soil, straight down past the roots. Source: Paul Hallett, University of Aberdeen, Scotland

Signs and consequences

On sports turf, this translates to localised dry spots, irregular shaped patches suffering from drought stress, or puddles of surface water. If water repellency is preventing water from moving effectively through your soils, it’s preventing water‑soluble nutrients and other applied materials from moving effectively too. This not only prevents your turf from uniformly getting what it needs, but also increases the potential for loss of expensive inputs and can have a negative environmental impact.

Combatting water repellency

If signs of water‑repellency emerge, surfactants can help break through the surface and deliver water and nutrients throughout the entire rootzone. Applying a wetting agent reduces run‑off and becomes cost effective as you save water, fertiliser and other resources.

In addition to adding soil surfactants to your turf maintenance programme (both proactively and reactively), keep track of where problem areas occur year after year. It is to note that along with water repellency issues, stubbornly reoccurring dry spots can also be an indicator of poor irrigation coverage or a larger problem beneath the soil.

Not all wetting agents are the same

While the basic science among wetting agents isn’t all that complicated, it’s important to remember that not all wetting agents are the same. New formulations and technologies have been developed in the six decades since Aquatrols introduced the world’s first commercially sold soil surfactant. These advances have resulted in vastly different performance characteristics, depending on the type of surfactant chemistry and soil conditions.

Your local Aquatrols representative can help you to separate fact from fiction and find the right soil surfactant chemistry for your individual needs.

Bailoy| Data checked – next step, hydraulic tree

In our previous article 'Check your data – don’t jump to replace your system' we covered the problems of incorrect station data in your irrigation database when compared to what is physically installed on site.

If your sprinkler data is correct and you are still having issues, the next step is to create a full hydraulic tree. A hydraulic tree is a representation of all the branches of mainline pipework.

Each sprinkler station is linked to its relevant branch enabling the controller to determine all the flow characteristics to co‑ordinate and manage flow.

Having the correct sprinkler type and flow is essential but can still give you problems if the pipes supplying that head, or group of heads, are not able to deliver the required flow. If new stations, updated sprinklers and pipework have also been added to the existing system over time, the additional flow required is often not considered. The result is you may be exceeding the parameters of the original design and asking an existing pipe network to deliver an increased amount of water to more heads with larger flows.

Flow problems often lead to the controller being unnecessarily criticised and the leap to replace the complete system is again back in the forefront.

By having a good hydraulic tree, the distribution of flow is managed in a controlled manner allowing each head, or group of heads, to receive the correct flow and pressure required for the desired application. It will also decrease ‘water hammer’, which causes wear and tear on pipes, joints, valves and heads, therefore decreasing maintenance costs and overall downtime of the system.

Contact us on 0044 (0) 208 897 0125 or visit our web site www.Bailoy.com

British Sugar TOPSOIL| Using soil‑based products to optimise irrigation

The irrigation of tees, green surrounds and bunkers during periods of drought can be an unwelcome additional burden on greenkeepers’ budgets. By selecting appropriate topsoil for the construction and renovation of green surrounds and bunkers and a soil‑based topdressing for tee construction and repair, the requirement for additional irrigation can be reduced, helping to mitigate costs.

British Sugar TOPSOIL’s Landscape20 is a BS3882:2015‑compliant sandy loam topsoil. Derived from prime arable soil, Landscape20’s additional reserves of organic matter result in a considerably slower percolation rate than sand‑based material and it is this increased water‑holding capacity that makes areas less reliant on irrigation in extended dry periods. The clay component in the soil holds on to nutrients (N, P, K, Mg) and the microbes present in the organic matter make for a healthy soil, resulting in good grass establishment and growth.

Sports&Turf topdressing comprises a 90/10 blend of medium to coarse sub‑angular sand with British Sugar TOPSOIL’s BS3882:2015‑compliant topsoil. When Sports&Turf is used to construct and repair tees, the soil element helps to establish and maintain the sward; this becomes particularly important when dry conditions prevail.

As climate extremes become more commonplace, greenkeepers are faced with adapting established practices to better manage the implications of drought. Soils and soil‑based materials can play an important role in helping them manage their courses, and budgets, through protracted dry periods.

British Sugar TOPSOIL products are available in bulk and (subject to a minimum order) in bulk bags.
www.bstopsoil.co.uk[email protected], 0870 240 2314


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Tony Hanson
Environmental Solutions International Ltd


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