The scope of the ruling for golf courses is unclear.

A federal judge in North Dakota has blocked the Clean Water Rule authored by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers under the Clean Water Act from taking effect on August 28 in 13 states. The rule attempts to clarify which “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) are overseen by the federal government. It is unclear at this time if the ruling reaches beyond those 13 states.

The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), as part of a broad Waters Advocacy Coalition, continues to have concerns that the rule will add additional permitting and regulatory requirements and hurdles that could adversely impact golf course design and management. Other industries represented within the coalition include agriculture, homebuilders, energy and transportation.

Although the Clean Water Act (CWA) has been in place since 1972, the new rule greatly expands the scope of waters that come under federal jurisdiction. Thirty-five states have taken legal action to try to halt the new rule, alleging the measure violates the Clean Water Act and impedes on state rights. In addition to the North Dakota ruling, federal judges in other states are still considering injunctions that would block the rule further.

The 13 states where the ruling has been temporarily halted are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

“As an association, we were not pleased with how this rule developed, and we will continue to support legislation to withdraw the rule, including Senate Bill 1140, which aims to get impacted stakeholders a seat at the table to develop a new rule that creates more certainty and bright lines” said Chava McKeel, GCSAA director of government relations. “GCSAA will continue to serve as an information source to assist with compliance for members and the entire golf industry.”

Introduced in April, Senate Bill 1140 would require the EPA and the Corps of Engineers to immediately withdraw the WOTUS rule, complete economic analyses and adhere to a certain principles when introducing any new rule. H.R. 1732 is the companion to S.B. 1140 and has already passed the full House.

McKeel said the golf industry supports clean water and that permits have always been required when activities were performed impacting “Waters of the U.S.” But now the definition of what is federally regulated water has been expanded to potentially include man-made lakes, water hazards on golf courses and ditches. There is also confusion as to what is and is not covered by and exempted by the new rule and there could be fines.

“This rule could seriously impact all superintendents,” said Kevin Sunderman, director of grounds at Isla del Sol Yacht and Country Club, that sits on a man-made island in St. Petersburg, Florida. “I now have at least 20 percent of my golf course under federal jurisdiction and if I want to move dirt near those areas I will need additional permitting at additional cost.”

While GCSAA can’t offer legal advice on WOTUS specifics, it can offer limited technical advice for golf course management professionals and others in the golf industry. The association is recommending several steps to help with CWA compliance:

  • Conduct an assessment of the water features, flood plains, wetlands and operational/proposed activities at your facility.
  • Consider permits when undertaking activities in, over or near WOTUS. Those include the Army Corps of Engineers 404/individual permits, NPDES permits for pesticide applications, 402, FEMA (permits generally administered through your state) and any state stream/water quality/flood plain permits.
  • Consider hiring a qualified environmental consultant to help you navigate the process. Ensure they have experience with state and federal permitting.