5 Water Quality Management and Monitoring
Aligning water quality management programs, such as stormwater management and lake and pond management with established, research-based BMPs is the first step to protecting water quality. Establishing a water quality monitoring program is the next step. Routine monitoring can be used to measure water quality improvements and identify any areas where corrective actions should be taken.
BMP Principles for Water Quality Management and Monitoring
- Manage lakes and ponds to maintain water quality, avoiding nutrient enrichment and maintaining dissolved oxygen levels.
- Assess current surface and groundwater quality.
- Conduct water quality assessments using accepted standards.
- Use an accredited laboratory for water quality assessment.
- Use monitoring results to assess effectiveness of implemented BMP strategies.
5.1 Regulatory Considerations
5.1.1 Surface Water Quality
The goal of all surface water quality protection programs is to ensure that all waters of the state meet water quality standards. The U.S. Clean Water Act requires states to classify all of the waters of the state according to their best uses and to adopt water quality standards in order to protect those best uses. The NYSDEC Division of Water utilizes the best uses and standards so established to regulate surface water, land use associated with tidal and freshwater wetlands, and dams. Specifically, NYSDEC is charged with identifying impaired surface waterbodies (i.e. waters not meeting water quality standards), recommending mitigation, and establishing guidelines for enhanced protection through a variety of regulatory programs.
For surface water in New York not meeting the established state water quality standards, NYSDEC establishes TMDLs for the pollutant of concern causing the impairment (such as nitrogen, phosphorus, or sediments). NYSDEC has completed TMDLs for many waterbodies in New York State, including Long Island Sound, Lake Champlain, waters of the Croton River watershed, and a number of lake watersheds. The EPA may also require localities to develop Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans (CNMPs) for activities in those impaired watersheds. Currently, CNMPs are focused on agricultural land use specifically related to the New York City Watershed Memorandum of Agreement. Note that state, federal, and local water quality regulations can change. Superintendents must remain informed about local, regional, and national policies and regulations.
5.1.2 Groundwater Quality
NYSDEC regulates groundwater, including setting groundwater quality and effluent standards. For more information, see NYSDEC Division of Water regulations.
5.1.3 Drinking Water
The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), passed in 1974, is the main federal law that ensures the quality of Americans’ drinking water. The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) established standards for drinking water quality that are more stringent than EPA standards and must be complied with. For more information, see the NYSDOH Drinking Water Protection Program.
5.1.4 Freshwater Wetlands
Article 24 of New York Environmental Conservation Law requires permits to conduct activities within a wetland and an adjacent area bordering the wetland. Physical disturbance, as well as applications of chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, even fertilizer), requires an Article 24 permit if the action is done in a state-regulated wetland or within the regulated adjacent area (typically 100 feet from the wetland boundary).
NYSDEC’s Dam Safety Section conducts safety inspection of dams; technical review of proposed dam construction or modification; monitoring of remedial work for compliance with dam safety criteria; and emergency preparedness. Any construction, modifications, or repairs of a dam requires consultation with the Dam Safety Section.
5.1.6 Water Withdrawal
New York State requires annual water usage reports for any system capable of withdrawing more than 100,000 gallons groundwater or surface water per day. In accordance with the water quality standard for flow, any withdrawal must also ensure that the existing best use of the waterbody from which the water is taken, such as protection of aquatic life, is not impaired. Reports for the prior year are due on March 31 of each year. Recycled water is exempted from this reporting requirement. For more information, see Water Withdrawal Permits and Reporting on the NYSDEC website.
In New York, the Dishwater Detergent and Nutrient Runoff Law became effective in January 2012. See the “Nutrient Management” chapter of this document for more information on fertilizer regulations.
Article 33 and portions of Articles 15 and 71 of the New York State Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) establish the statutory authority to NYSDEC to promulgate regulations concerning pesticides and pesticide use, including the use of aquatic pesticides, through Title 6 of the Official Compilation of Codes, Rules and Regulations of the State of New York Parts 320-329 See the “Pesticide Management” chapter of this document for more information on pesticide regulations.
5.1.9 Grass Carp
In New York State, stocking of diploid grass carp in ponds for the control of aquatic plants is prohibited, but the stocking of triploid (sterile) grass carp is allowed with a permit from the NYSDEC Division of Fish and Wildlife. For more information, see the Triploid Grass Carp in New York Ponds web page and permit information.
5.2 Stormwater Management
As discussed in Section 3.4 of this document, stormwater management typically refers to the management of runoff from precipitation, though it applies to irrigation runoff as well. Stormwater management includes planning for runoff, maintaining stormwater systems, and regulating the collection, storage, and movement of stormwater. The principles of stormwater management – keeping stormwater close to where it falls, slowing down stormwater runoff, and allowing it to infiltrate into the soil – are the most effective ways to protect surface water quality.
5.3 Lake and Pond Management
The management of lakes and ponds should include a clear statement of goals and priorities to guide the development of the BMPs necessary to meet those goals. Some of the issues superintendents should address to maintain the water quality of golf course lakes and ponds include:
- low DO levels
- aquatic plant management
- near-shore management zones
- addressing aquatic invasive species
5.3.1 Dissolved Oxygen
Dissolved oxygen is the amount of oxygen present in water and is measured in milligrams per liter (mg/L). Adequate DO levels are required to sustain life in aquatic organisms and vary by species, the organism’s life stage, and water temperature.
The amount of DO that water can hold depends on the physical conditions of the body of water (water temperature, rate of flow, oxygen mixing, etc.) and photosynthetic activity. Colder water has higher DO levels than warmer water. Dissolved oxygen levels also differ by time of day and by season as water temperatures fluctuate. Similarly, a difference in DO levels may occur at different depths in deeper surface water if the water stratifies into thermal layers. Fast-flowing streams hold more oxygen than impounded water. Lastly, photosynthetic activity also influences DO levels. As aquatic plants and algae photosynthesize during the day, they release oxygen. At night, photosynthesis slows down considerably or even stops, and algae and plants pull oxygen from the water. In impoundments with excessive plant and algae growth, several cloudy days in a row can increase the potential for fish kills due to low DO during warm weather. Therefore, preventing excessive aquatic growth helps to maintain DO levels. The use of artificial aeration (diffusers) can also be used to maintain adequate DO, especially in small impoundments or ponds.
5.3.2 Aquatic Plants
Aquatic plants include algae and vascular plants and are natural parts of aquatic ecosystems. Phytoplankton, or algae, give water its green appearance and provide the base for the food chain in ponds. Tiny animals called zooplankton use phytoplankton as a food source. Large aquatic plants (aquatic macrophytes) can grow rooted to the bottom and supported by the water (submersed plants), rooted to the bottom or shoreline and extended above the water surface (emerged plants), rooted to the bottom with their leaves floating on the water surface (floating-leaved plants), or free-floating on the water surface (floating plants).
Aquatic plants growing on a littoral shelf may help protect receiving waters from the pollutants present in surface water runoff. Ideally, littoral zones should have a slope of about 1 foot vertical to 6-10 feet horizontal to provide the best substrate for aquatic plant growth. In open areas, floating-leaved and floating plants suppress phytoplankton because they absorb nutrients from the pond water and create shade.
Particularly in shallow or nutrient-enriched ponds, aquatic plant growth can become excessive. Non-native plants, in particular, can aggressively colonize aquatic environments. The excessive growth of any aquatic plant requires management, and any aquatic invasive plants that are removed should only be disposed of in upland settings to prevent potential reintroduction into waterbodies. Following the principles laid out in the “Integrated Pest Management” chapter of this document, a number of controls should be considered to deal with excessive aquatic plant growth, including:
- prevention, such as reducing nutrient enrichment and avoiding the introduction of invasive species
- cultural practices, such as benthic barriers to prevent vascular plant growth
- mechanical removal
- chemical control
Grass carp are sometimes used as biological control to control aquatic plants. As discussed in the Regulatory Considerations section earlier in this chapter, stocking of triploid grass carp requires a permit issued by NYSDEC.
For more on pond management, see the NYSDEC’s A Primer on Aquatic Plant Management in New York State and Diet for a Small Lake: The Expanded Guide to New York State Lake and Watershed Management.
5.3.3 Shoreline Management
Special management zones should be established around the edges of lakes and ponds. The management specifications should include a setback distance when applying fertilizers, as well as reduced mowing. Grass clippings should be collected and composted elsewhere at the facility, as the phosphorus and nitrogen in clippings can otherwise impact water quality.
The deposits of fecal matter by resident and migrating waterfowl (Canada Geese, mute swans, and others) may contribute to water quality impairment through nutrient enrichment. The overall impact of bird feces on water quality, however, depends on numerous factors, such as the size, depth, and natural chemistry of the water body; avian populations and behavior; and the rate at which other nutrient sources enter the water body (Unckless and Makarewicz, 2007).
On golf courses, shallow ponds with significant populations of waterfowl are most likely to be affected. In these cases, annual phosphorus loading by waterfowl can be calculated using the days per year that each species spent on any lake or reservoir. Leaving an unmowed buffer around shorelines has been known to discourage geese from congregating on shorelines. For more information, see Managing Canada Goose Damage.
5.4 Water Quality Monitoring
Golf course superintendents wanting to develop and implement a water quality monitoring program to document the water quality conditions should first review available baseline water quality data. Baseline data can be assessed to determine the likely origin of contaminants, measure the extent of sedimentation and nutrient inputs, and estimate the potential impacts to surface water and groundwater. Following implementation of BMPs, routine monitoring can be used to measure water quality improvements and identify any areas where corrective actions should be taken.
Water quality monitoring can also demonstrate the presence of issues in water as it enters a golf course property. In Suffolk County, for example, extensive laboratory testing for contaminants has shown that groundwater entering the golf course already has extremely high nitrate levels near or greater than the regulatory limit. The county also collects surface water samples and shares the test reports with superintendents.
5.4.1 Sources of Existing Information
Several sources of existing surface and groundwater monitoring data may be available, including:
- Soil and Water Conservation Districts in NYS – Comprehensive water quality management programs; may be willing to test surface water and assist in installation of groundwater monitoring wells.
- NYSDEC – Conducts a groundwater monitoring program in coordination with United States Geological Survey (USGS).
- New York Water Science Center – USGS program that publishes water quality monitoring information.
- County Water Authorities – Maintain and test community water wells and may have additional test data from other points within the watershed.
5.4.2 Developing a Water Quality Monitoring Program
Developing a water quality monitoring program can include both groundwater and surface water monitoring. The data from this periodic monitoring can be used to identify issues that may need corrective actions. In addition, water quality monitoring of irrigation sources (particularly water supply wells and storage lakes) provides valuable agronomic information that can inform nutrient and liming programs. A water quality monitoring plan should identify appropriate sampling locations, frequency, and monitoring parameters.
Groundwater monitoring from wells located at the hydrologic entrance and exit from the course may be the best way to evaluate a golf course’s impact on water quality. If groundwater monitoring data from these locations is not available from existing sources, monitoring wells can be installed by private companies. Installing groundwater monitoring wells can be relatively expensive, but the expense may be justified in certain cases where the origin of contamination can only be determined through comparison of water quality entering and exiting the property. To identify the appropriate site for monitoring wells, groundwater flow is required. In some areas of New York, groundwater flow maps have been developed, but may not be available at a fine enough scale for an individual golf course. Experienced environmental engineering firms or the USGS can assist in determining suitable monitoring well locations.
Testing protocols can be simplified to test only those parameters that are directly influenced by course management, including organic and inorganic levels of nitrogen and phosphorus and a pesticide screen for certain pesticides used on the course. NYSDEC pesticide reports provide the necessary documentation for pesticides used. The USGS also offers contract services to advise on sampling and testing of water samples. County Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) offices can also provide guidance on groundwater testing programs.
Surface water monitoring can include the laboratory testing of a number of different physical and chemical parameters to assess water quality. In addition, the sampling of macrobenthic invertebrates can be used as a relative assessment tool for stream health. Sampling of surface water can be conducted by golf course staff or volunteer monitoring groups.
The Environmental Best Management Practices for Virginia’s Golf Courses includes a detailed chapter on water quality monitoring and an example of a water quality monitoring report.
5.5 Water Quality Management and Monitoring Best Management Practices
- Follow a treatment train approach to manage stormwater, integrating source controls with structural and non-structural controls.
Lake and Pond Management
- Develop a comprehensive management plan that includes strategies to prevent and control the growth of nuisance aquatic vegetation.
- Establish minimum DO thresholds to prevent fish kills, which occur at levels of 2-3 mg/L.
- Reduce stress on fish by keeping DO levels at 5-10 mg/L.
- Use artificial aeration (diffusers) if needed to maintain adequate DO, especially those waterbodies less than 6 feet in depth, and especially at night during the warmer months.
- Keep phosphorus rich material (e.g. natural or synthetic fertilizers, organic tissues like grass clippings, or unprotected topsoil) from entering surface water.
- Install desirable native plants to naturally buffer DO loss and fluctuation.
- To control excessive aquatic plant growth, use an IPM approach that incorporates prevention, cultural practices, and mechanical removal methods in addition to chemical control.
- To reduce the risk of DO depletion, use an algaecide containing hydrogen peroxide instead of one with copper or endothall.
- Dredge or remove sediment as needed to improve aquatic habitat.
- Reverse-grade around the waterbody perimeters to control surface water runoff and to reduce nutrient loads.
- Discourage large numbers of waterfowl from colonizing golf course waterbodies.
- Use a multi-faceted, IPM approach to control nuisance animals.
Water Quality Monitoring
- Review existing sources of groundwater and surface water quality information.
- Develop a water quality monitoring program.
- Establish baseline quality levels for water.
- Identify appropriate sampling locations and sample at the same locations in the future.
- Visually monitor/assess any specific changes in surface waterbodies.
- Follow recommended sample collection and analytical procedures.
- Conduct seasonal water quality sampling. The recommendation is four times per year.
- Use an accredited laboratory for water quality assessment, using accepted standards.
- Compare water quality monitoring results to benchmark quality standards.
- Use corrective measures when necessary.