In my last two articles, I wrote about the threats to our seas and shoreline from seismic testing and offshore drilling. These are serious potential dangers that could occur but have not yet happened in our local waters.

The other major threat is runoffs of pollutants into our ponds, streams and waterways, which eventually gets to the ocean.

One of the sources of pollutants of our fresh water is the runoff from golf courses, and there is an abundance of them in the Lowcountry.

Golf courses with neat greens and grounds are not found in nature, so they must be constantly maintained with copious amounts of water, fertilizer, weed control, etc. These additives must go somewhere, so into our ponds and streams they go. It’s the over-concentration of fertilizers and such that creates problems.

Golf course managers know this, and the responsible ones work to keep contaminants and pollutants down to a minimum. Still, it is an ongoing battle and takes a commitment to maintain a safe balance, especially since these golf course ponds feed into other ponds and streams.

Frank LaVardera is the director of environmental programs for golf for Audubon International. He oversees the organization’s Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf. This is a certification program that helps golf courses protect our environment.

LaVardera said this program is centered around core concepts such as wildlife and habitat management, chemical use and reduction, and water conservation. As an example, under water quality management, testing of water bodies on the golf course is required for certification.

As you might be aware, water bodies on a golf course are susceptible to increased levels of both nitrogen and phosphorus. In addition, management guidelines recommend slow-release fertilizers and require thick vegetative buffers around water bodies so that these nutrients can be utilized by the vegetation buffers, thereby decreasing runoff into other ponds and water bodies.

The test results are reviewed by Audubon International for recertification every three years. But are these actual results ever made available to the public? How do you know if your golf course is in compliance?

If you are a member of a golf club in the Lowcountry, ask management to see the results of tests or contact Audubon International. You can learn if your club is certified by calling 518-874-4666.

We will never stop development, progress or golf in the Lowcountry – nor should we. However, we all can do what we can to minimize our impact on our precious environment. Certification of golf courses is one approach. But it is only as effective as its enforcement of standards.

What can we do if we see problems?

According to LaVardera, when they get club members’ concerns, they reach out to the course superintendent to inquire about the issue. If significant, they request that the issue be corrected within a certain period of time and provide evidence (typically photos) to be submitted to us to verify that problems have been addressed.

The vast majority of courses are cooperative. However, decertification can and has occurred if there is a failure to comply.

John Riolo lives in Moss Creek and is past president of the Nature Club of Moss Creek.