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Water-usage permitting process allows golf to grow and prosper 

CHARLESTON, S.C. (July 5, 2010) - Although course owners don’t typically view new environmental regulations as a boon for business, led in part by the SCGCOA, South Carolina’s golf industry is celebrating the recent passage of the Surface Water Withdrawal, Permitting, Use and Reporting Act.

The bill, which was signed into law by Governor Mark Sanford in late June, establishes a permitting process and fee schedule for existing and new surface-water users. More importantly for course operators in the Palmetto State, the legislation includes a grandfather clause that exempts existing surface-water users from restrictions that will be applied to new users.

“What we wanted and got was a permitting process that gives the industry the ability to use water in a way that is environmentally responsible and is based on sound input rather than some arbitrary criteria,” says Terry Sedalik, executive director of the South Carolina Golf Course Owners Association (SCGCOA) and one of several leaders who lobbied legislators on behalf of the industry. “We knew some type of permitting was inevitable, that there was going to be increased water regulation no matter what, and we were proactive in making sure it was crafted to give golf operators the best and fairest terms possible.”

Prior to the law’s passage, surface-water users were not required to register and report their water usage; going forward, those who fail to report their usage will face penalties for non-compliance. (Fine amounts will be determined during the legislation’s rulemaking phase.) The threshold for reporting is 100,000 gallons per day, or 3 million gallons per month, and permits will be based on the highest reported usage on record, giving owners another incentive to report their consumption.

Golf’s success on this issue - and on property taxes and tourism in the past - can be traced to the early 1990s, when officials from the state’s various golf associations formed the Carolinas Golf Council. The alliance brought together the executive directors from the SCGCOA, Carolinas PGA, Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association, South Carolina Golf Association, Carolinas Golf Association and the Club Managers Association. “This is our ‘Paul Revere’ group,” Sedalik says. “We sound the alarm and everyone is ready to ride to the rescue.”

That certainly proved to be the case with this effort. Realizing that water restrictions were inevitable, the Golf Council formed a committee with representatives from each organization to monitor the issue in the state’s capital and then report back to the alliance to determine what action needed to be taken concerning legislation.

“Even though it’s the owners who have final responsibility on most golf matters because they have equity, it was important that we partner with other groups and leverage the CGCSA’s scientific knowledge, particularly in the area of hydrology, on this issue,” Sedalik says. “So it was the superintendents who took the leadŠand did a superb job.”

According to Sedalik, legislators welcomed involvement from the unified organizations during the bill’s deliberations. “They could see we had done our homework, we had the expertise, and we represented a number of points-of-view.”

While industry officials are pleased with the ultimate outcome, the new legislation does come with a price tag. Existing withdrawers will have to pay $1,000 for a permit application fee and $1,000 annually per intake, although that rate could change depending on how regulations are written. (The permit fee for new withdrawers will be $7,500 and $1,000 per intake.) What’s more, a public hearing will be required to determine if the withdrawal constitutes an acceptable usage of surface water, and a study to determine the effects of the withdrawal on the downstream environment will also have to be performed.

“Golf courses have been adhering to a code of best management practices developed by North Carolina State and Clemson [universities] for a number of years,” says Tim Kreger, executive director of the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association (CGCSA). “We’re hoping that our record of resource conservation will be persuasive in limiting our exposure to one intake.”

Even so, most contend the payoff has been - and will continue to be - worth the investment. “Compared with other regions in the country,” says Sedalik, “the law’s mandates are a small price to pay to ‘permit’ each registered facility based on its highest reported water use.”


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