Recent changes in legislation (Groundwater Regulations 1998 and updated in November 2008) have made it a criminal offence to knowingly allow the discharge or disposal of certain substances, including mineral oils and chemicals such as pesticides, onto the ground where they may percolate into, and contaminate, groundwater.
Potential penalties for infringement of the law, could incur severe fines (up to £20,000). Consideration should also be given to the more recently introduced EU Water Framework Directive. Its main objectives include; "reduce pollution of water, especially by 'priority' and 'priority hazardous' substances, ensure progressive reduction of groundwater pollution and promote sustainable use of water."
Nearly every golf course maintains an area, or several areas, where they wash down their maintenance equipment such as mowers, chemical spreaders and tractors.
In recent years there has been a drive to install appropriate wash down facilities to ensure compliance with the above legislation. The cost of these can be quite substantial and, in this current credit crunch climate, many clubs do not have the spare money or desire to address the issue. Unfortunately, this may lead to polluted wastewater from the wash areas flowing freely into nearby lakes, streams, ponds, stormwater or sewer.
Some of the pollutants found in the wash residue of maintenance vehicles and turf equipment are oils and grease, fuels, other hydrocarbon products, detergents, herbicides, insecticides, pesticides, fertilisers, nitrates, lead and copper, to name a few.
All of these are potentially dangerous to humans and wildlife when introduced in cumulative amounts to the surrounding environment.
The practical solution is to find an alternative source of wash water or ensure that the water used in the wash down treatments is thoroughly treated, filtered and cleaned before discharge. Existing options include treatment and use of onsite irrigation water, stormwater collection or wash water recycling. The practical approach may be a combination of all three.
Incorporating an engineered, impervious washpad along with a closed loop biological washpad water recycling system (containing specific technologies designed to eliminate the golf course related contaminants) and rainwater collection into your current maintenance operations is certainly the perfect way to meet the demands of current legislation. This would clearly minimise the damage to the surrounding environment.
It is important to select a recycling system designed for treatment of chemical and organic contaminants specific to golf courses.
A dedicated concrete washpad with a low lip surround (to prevent escape of possible pollutants) should be designed to collect all water from the equipment washing operations. In order for the washpad to efficiently catch and retain grass particles and debris, an engineered solution, such as a grass trap or sand filter, should be installed. This would allow contaminated water to leave the pad and enter whatever treatment or storage option is chosen, e.g. recycling system, oil/water separator or reed bed.
For those clubs which do not seek, or feel unable, to go to the expense of a water recycling system, they should at least consider the installation of an oil/water separator or a reedbed filtration system, which helps to provide a naturalistic way of filtering and assists the breakdown of these pollutants before the water is allowed to drain back into natural water courses, streams, ponds or lakes.
Most greenkeepers are familiar with washpad recycling systems and separators, with plenty of literature and information available, but another alternative, and somewhat less expensive, is reed beds. But, how do reed beds work and what is required?
Reed beds use common reed plants (phragmites communis), a second cousin of the common marsh plant) to dewater solids in a confined area. The beds can be any shape to accommodate existing land conditions and areas. Specially designed ponds with underdrains covered by a sand and gravel mixture are constructed and filled with the reed plants.
Phragmite is one of the most widespread flowering plants in the world. It is a tough adaptable plant, which can grow in polluted waters and finds sustenance in sludge. This reed has a voracious appetite for water. The plant is tolerant to low oxygen levels and to waterlogged conditions. The reeds hold themselves in the soil through roots, rhizomes and an intricate network of underground stems. New plants in turn will sprout from these stems. These rapidly growing roots provide air passages through the sludge that, in turn, provide a host area for many biological communities to develop and continue to mineralise the pollutants.
I have seen the benefits of using reed beds for water filtration. Some years ago, when I was a Client Officer for a Local Council, we had a problem of a Bio Clear sewage treatment plant not being able to perform and retain water quality before discharging into a local water course. So, as a back up, we installed a reed bed system that provided the final filtration process before the water was allowed back in to the natural watercourse. It worked very well, and we did not get any more grief from the Environment Agency.
In recent months I have come across a number of greenkeepers who have installed reed beds to improve water quality. One such is John Chantrell, Head Greenkeeper at Lilleshall Golf Club. John has been working closely with Defra and gained the relevant approval to undertake the project.
John's requirement for a new concrete wash down area led him to investigating the options available. He was already aware of the modern recycling and water storage wash down facilities on offer, but the problem was justifying the cost of around £10,000, not something he was ready to commit to in the current economic climate. However, he had heard about the reed bed systems and, after some investigations, decided to build his own.
He began by constructing a five metre by seven metre concrete plinth. This was bunded to collect the water, with a small gap in the bund, which allowed water to run into the first of two clay-lined basins containing the reeds. Each basin measured three square metres and 600mm deep (200mm of puddling clay topped with 40mm of gravel). John planted approximately100 reed plants in each of the basins. A third ten metre long basin was constructed and planted with willow trees. The combination of all three basins effectively ensures that there is more than enough capacity to cope with the amount of water used during wash downs.
The washings must be contained in the three basins and there should be no links to drains and ditches. Machinery also needs to be checked for oil leaks.
The cost of materials was as follows:
• 200 plants - £282
• Bricks, kerbs and cement - £250
• Hire of a Hymac - £709
• 31 tonnes of 20mm stone - £554
• Ready mixed concrete - £555
• 4 willow plants - £30
• All labour was carried out in house
The total cost of the reed bed installation, including the concrete base, was £2,380. This compares with the cost of a typical separator and purpose designed grass trap/sand filter at around £2,000, with washpad and installation costs of around £10,000.
John is confident that, once the reeds have fully established, they will cope well with the daily requirement of washing down his machinery, under the proviso that no detergents, degreasers, pesticides or herbicides are used.
His decision to go down this route was based on its simplicity, ecological friendliness, ease of installation and maintenance cost efficiency. And, of course, it was far cheaper than other systems currently on the market.
One final thought though on the EU Water Framework Directive. Whilst the three technologies meet anti-pollution requirements, recycling systems save water - separators and reed beds do not.
Before undertaking a project like this we do recommend that you seek advice to ensure that what you are proposing meets all the current legislation and, indeed, meets you club's requirements. As an example, Course Care's ClearWater systems have been awarded the government sponsored WTL symbol as an approved water saving technology. The company specialises in supply and installation of recycling systems, separators, washpads and grass traps/sand filters.
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A reed bed has limitations
Waste2Water's Tim Earley suggests that, whilst a reed bed has some merit on cost, it will not keep pace with current legislation
Reed beds are an excellent method of naturally cleaning water and are widely used in applications such as treating sewage waste. However, a reed bed provides only a partial solution to the needs of a golf course maintenance facility as it cannot efficiently handle oils, grease, chemicals or grass clippings, which are likely to be present:
• Oils and greases cannot be allowed to enter the reed bed as this will 'blind' the reed bed, creating anaerobic conditions. Should excessive oils enter the reed bed this will need to be cleaned out to repair the damage and restore its natural functioning.
• Chemicals may be only partially treated or pass straight through the reed bed untreated and may also cause damage to the reeds.
• Fine grass clippings must not enter the reed bed or it will quickly silt-up, causing it to malfunction and creating a stinking, mulched vegetation area.
• A reed bed does not recycle the water for continual reuse, as some systems do.
To address the reed bed limitations and ensure its correct operation the operator will need to follow a strict operating routine. Providing this is followed the reed bed should work well, although some greenkeepers may consider the operating restrictions impractical. Operating procedures will need to include:
• Checking equipment for oil leaks prior to wash-off.
• Equipment refuelling must be undertaken in a separate area to the wash pad, to avoid hydrocarbon contamination of the reed bed. The new Pollution Prevention Guideline (PPG 7 - Fuel Dispensing) requires that all refuelling must be undertaken in a controlled area, which has an impervious surface and a collection point to retain any spillages. A separate controlled refuelling area will therefore need to be constructed, if this has not already been done, as it is no longer permissable to refuel on an open yard, waste ground or grass areas etc.
• Chemical handling and rinsing/washing of the chemical sprayer must be undertaken away from the reed bed equipment wash pad.
• It is also advisable to minimise the amount of clippings entering the reed bed. An air blower is recommended to blow off the excess clippings from the equipment prior to wash-off as stopping the fine tees and greens clippings from entering the reed bed is easier said than done. If a fine mesh grid is installed to retain all the clippings this will continually block and need constant attention. A wider mesh grid will not get blocked up but will let the fine clippings through.
Installation of a reed bed can be cost effective, particularly if it can be constructed in-house, depending upon individual site requirements. However, as many facilities will require additional environmental protection facilities (e.g. a dedicated separate refueling area), in practice, it is unlikely any significant cost savings will materialise for most.
Add the pressure of ensuring future compliance with ever-increasing environmental legislation and the 'complete solution' systems, which at first sight may appear more expensive, are clearly in the frame for serious consideration. They create an Environmental Activity Centre, which deals with all the environmental concerns in one area, is future-proof and has the advantage of ease of use for the operator.
Dealing with the complete range of environmental concerns at one visit, without the need to constantly check if the club is still in compliance, surely has to be the way to go.
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