“Finding the Baseline”: A Simple Approach to Water Quality Monitoring

As winter fades and the Spring rains arrive, a significant amount of water will flow along the surfaces of our golf courses and into wetlands, streams, rivers, lakes, and the spectacular estuaries of Long Island. In fact, New York State is associated with more than 15 individual watersheds (see inset to find your watershed).

In some parts of the world, regulatory agencies can impose strict water quality reporting requirements on land managers. In fact, strict water quality reporting has been considered within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the Susquehanna River Watershed, and is undoubtedly of interest to those involved in the various initiatives for nutrients and pesticides on Long Island.

As good land managers, it is vital that we understand any potential impact we could have on our local water bodies, and if possible, the groundwater below the land we manage. A good place to begin might be to test the water that passes through the golf course during the spring rainy period. In fact, one of the “Getting Started BMPs” states “Assess current surface and groundwater quality.”

Establishing baseline data is critical for representative water bodies and water sources that may be impacted by golf course operations. Baseline tests should be conducted 4x/year for the first year and should be taken from the same locations every time to ensure consistency.

The first step is to identify two sampling locations for testing flowing surface water ( creek/stream/river): one location where the water enters the property and the second where the water exits. The sample should not be collected directly from the side of the waterbody as sediment can contaminate the sample. If you must collect water near the edge of a water body, use a dipper or other type of extension to take the sample away from the shoreline. To collect the sample, use clean plastic containers that will hold at least a 100 ml and with lids that make a tight seal. Rinse the bottle (including the lid) several times with the water to be tested. Fill the sample bottle completely and eliminate all head space (no air space). Be sure the lid is tight so that samples do not leak during transit.
If possible, collect and ship samples to the laboratory on the same day. The same laboratory you already use for soil testing may offer water quality testing services as well. A basic analysis will include results for at least pH, nitrogen, phosphorus, and specific conductivity.

Two sample submissions collected four times in the first year might require about four total labor hours for collecting samples and sending out for analysis. Lab fees for basic analysis for the baseline data should be a couple of hundred dollars. More information on this BMP is available at http://nysgolfbmp.cals.cornell.edu/water-quality-monitoring/.