Golf Course Equipment Wash Pads

How has something as simple as a golf course equipment wash pad gotten so complicated?
The days of placing a concrete pad at the barn to wash equipment with irrigation water is over. The water from equipment washing in most cases is considered a pollutant. Especially washing spray equipment without containing the wash water is considered criminal in most states.

We all agree water pollution is bad, some may remember the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire and how it helped spur an avalanche of water pollution control activities resulting in the Clean Water Act, Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and the creation of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. As a result, large point sources of pollution on the Cuyahoga and throughout the country have received significant attention since that ridiculous fire in 1969. These events are referred to in Randy Newman's 1972 song "Burn On", R.E.M.'s 1986 song "Cuyahoga" and The Simpsons episode "Lemon of Troy”. Great Lakes Brewing Company of Cleveland, Ohio named their Burning River Pale Ale after the event. Bad event; when a river catches on fire. It goes to show that a catastrophe can have a far reaching impact.

So do you suppose that wash water from golf courses might be the next hit song or Simpson’s episode? What if a large fish kill took place in the river a half mile away from the golf course. By coincidence your spray tech just applied a mixture of chlorpyrifos and Mancozeb. That wash water made its way into the river and now the local brew pub has a new microbrew, “Rolling Fairways Country Club Fish Kill Lager”. In the meantime, the local authorities, state DNR and USEPA are taking soil and water samples looking for a finger to point.

Where do your golf course chemicals go, how long do they persist in the soil and water, what liabilities do you and your club have when it concerns water, fish and the environment?
What’s in the water from the golf course wash pad? A. Martin Petrovic, PH.D Cornell University, did research into this very same issue published in the Green Section Record, September – October, 2005, Evolving Equipment Technology and what’s in That Water. Although site specific to New York state and Suffolk County in particular the data from chemicals present in wash water is telling. Most fertilizers and chemicals present in the wash water were below threshold amounts. However, the build-up of these chemicals overtime could have a deleterious effect. It’s interesting to note that detectable amounts of pesticides (chlorpyrifos being one which is highly toxic to fish) where measured in holding tanks even though these chemicals have not been used at the subject golf courses for years. Also of note, Dr. Petrovic recommends that pesticide equipment not be washed in the same manner that other turf equipment is washed unless a recycling or water treatment system is used.


It’s just a matter of time before legislation is specifically enacted to regulate wash water from golf course equipment. As it stands now, April, 2011 most golf courses in the US should have some type of permit from local or state authorities to release trace quantities of pesticides if you do not have a water recycling system. Contact your insurance company, the club’s attorney and your local or state authority on your need for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permit.

As you now know the Clean Water Act is just the tip of the iceberg, Rep. James Oberstar, Democrat, Minnesota, sponsored a bill that this spring made it through the house (H.R. 1262) to augment the CWA with an additional $1.3 billion in funds for additions and enforcements. I am sure by the time the bill makes it through the senate it will include other amendments to beef up protection for the waters of the country as well as other “enhancements”.
Build a wash pad, drain to a holding tank or recycling equipment, or get a NPDES permit for discharge into local sanitary sewer. Do not let the wash water drain into a stream, pond, storm sewer, or any body of water! If possible drain equipment wash water to an area that has no chance to flow into a body of water, over an area of vegetation is best. When cleaning spray tanks and equipment clean all related parts in an out of the way turf area on property. The left over spray is legally considered pesticide waste. Waste is what is left over from the intended propose of the original spray mix. The ideal is to recycle all wash and rinsate if possible and I believe it’s just a matter of time before state or federal regulations mandate all golf courses to capture all water use to clean equipment. When capturing wash water it can be diluted to use as make-up water for subsequent spray mixes. Of course don’t empty unused spray formulations anywhere unless diluted and broadcast sprayed in an out of the way turf area.

Old fashion leach pits and septic-type water treatments may or may not yield sufficient results. Capturing and reusing wash water seems to be the best alternative to an expensive recycling system. Compressed air clipping removal is also an alternative way to keeping equipment clean. Dry clippings can often be composted and used on property as beneficial compose.

On new installations or renovations to a wash pad it is advisable to install test wells to sample water if your Turf Care Center is in a low water table area. The testing will provide baseline statistics and should be proof of your proper care of chemical pesticides. Soil samples can also be sent to labs to discover just what chemical pesticides are in the soil.

If a Bureaucrat wants to make a name for themselves or make your life difficult I believe they have the means. The media loves sensational topics and negligent polluters are great copy. Be proactive and seek out what your local or state government wants your golf course to do pertaining to compliance issues. Be proactive not reactive!

Wash water can contain organic material such as grass clipping and soil as well as soaps, oil residue, fertilizer, and pesticide residue. These materials can degrade water quality and should never be allowed to flow directly into surface water. There are many options for washing sites.

At the very least, wash water should be directed to a location where water can spread out and be filtered, away from any environmentally sensitive areas. This type of system is not appropriate for water used to wash the inside and outside of pesticide equipment. That water must be collected and handled according to pesticide label instructions.

Constructing an impervious wash pad to divert water to a collection system is another option. The collected water could connect to a sanitary sewer for off-site treatment or be treated on-site in a closed loop system and reused. Closed loop systems can be designed to treat pesticide equipment wash water. The type of system appropriate for the course will depend on the volume of water generated, contents of the wash water, and the potential for pollution in the surrounding area.

There are many types of systems varying in complexity. All systems must comply with any federal, state, or local water quality regulations and obtain any necessary authorizations. Always try to minimize the volume of water used when washing equipment. Conserve water by using nozzles that produce high pressure spray at a low volume. Keep an air hose nearby to blow off equipment before washing. Consider using the clippings in compost.

* Do not discharge wash water to surface water directly, or indirectly through ditches and storm drains.
* Construct a roof over the wash pad to prevent clean rainwater from being collected into a filtering system.
* Minimize detergent use and use only biodegradable, phosphate-free detergents.
* Handle water used to clean pesticide equipment in its own system.
* Washing equipment on a pesticide loading pad will contaminate clippings and other debris.
* Research local requirements for wash water treatment.

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