Blog : Local Golf Course Engages in Groundbreaking Stormwater Management Lessening Environmental Impact To Great Bay

By Sam Lane | Jul 22, 2015 | in

By Rich Collins

A joint conservation effort between Sagamore-Hampton Golf, the NH Department of Environmental Services, and UNH has put one NH golf company at the forefront of conservation of Great Bay.

Though it appears at times as no more than a mere trickle of water, Cornelius Brook is a small stream that flows quietly through the Sagamore-Hampton Golf course. Its significance lies in the fact that its ultimate destination is New Hampshire’s Great Bay, which has been succumbing to pollution pressures in recent times. The Great Bay is one of the most important estuaries in the country, and named as one of 28 US EPA, Estuaries of National Significance.

Cornelius Brook is perhaps no more important than any of the numerous tributaries that feed into the Bay, but thanks to a new joint project that is underway, the water that flows into the Brook will be that much cleaner and free of dangerous fertilizers as it enters the larger Winnicut River on its way toward Great Bay and ultimately the Atlantic ocean.

According to the NH DES website, seven rivers in total carry pollution from 42 New Hampshire and 10 Maine communities into the Great Bay watershed, which comprises of 1,023 square miles. A 2013 State of Estuaries report shows the Bay is in trouble, resulting in 12 of 16 environmental indicators with negative or cautionary trends.

 Quite simply, the healthier the small feeder streams are, the healthier the Bay itself will be, and Sagamore-Hampton Golf is leading the way in pollution control both setting an example of business stewardship and hopefully a trend in how all land owners surrounding the Bay can assist in this fragile ecosystem’s recovery.

The headwaters of Cornelius Brook begin just a few hundred feet from the popular Hampton golf course, and serve as both a water hazard to golfers, and a means for excess water to travel naturally toward the Winnicut River. Along the way, especially in a managed turf system, the stream can pick up nitrogen, and in particular, sediment, in areas that may not have what is known as a strong ‘riparian buffer.’

The Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership defines a buffer as “a vegetated area along a shoreline, wetland, or stream where development is restricted or prohibited. The primary function of a buffer is to physically protect and separate a stream, lake, or wetland from future disturbance or encroachment. All buffers are important and they are the first line of defense against the impacts of impervious surfaces, nutrients, and erosion. Buffers are especially critical in developed areas.”

In many places along Cornelius Brook, there is smooth, green turf grass that is mowed down to the water’s edge, which results in a limited natural buffer.

Richard Luff, the President and Co-owner of the golf course, is a strong proponent of making businesses such as his as environmentally friendly as possible, having spent significant time and energy working toward Audubon certification for his golf course.

“We wanted to take the next step,” explains Luff, “and further lessen the environmental impact of this business. We partnered with the NH Department of Environmental Services (DES) and UNH with the goal of improving the water quality of Cornelius Brook. The goal is to plant naturally sustaining buffers in the most vulnerable areas to help prevent sediment and runoff from readily entering the brook. To achieve this, buffer zones with native species will be mapped out and planted along the brook to create a sustaining buffer. Mowing will be limited in designated areas to keep the buffers natural so they can do their work in filtering sediment and runoff. Sagamore-Hampton employees will provide the labor as well North Hampton School volunteers and others from the UNH Coastal Research team.”

The NH DES clearly quantifies the potential benefit of the project as “addressing the nutrient load to Cornelius Brook, the Winnicut River and ultimately Great Bay. In the process, 35,000 square feet of riparian buffers will be restored, resulting in an annual reduction of 9.6 pounds of total nitrogen, 4.8 pounds of total phosphorous, and 5.6 tons of sediment in the Winnicut subwatershed.”

Alyson Eberhardt, Coastal Ecosystems Specialist at NH Sea Grant/UNH Cooperative Extension, enthusiastically sums up the project, "we have a very high density of golf courses over a very small subwatershed, and we have a fantastic partner in Sagamore Golf which is using very thoughtful turf management practices and is willing to restore buffers. So in addition to water quality improvements that we hope to gain on a very local scale, we hope that Sagamore-Hampton can serve as a model to other golf courses in the region and that this work can be beneficial on a regional scale as well."

Peter Wellenberger of the Great Bay Stewards, another conservation-minded support group of the Bay, has supported Sagamore’s on-going efforts to be an Audubon certified golf course.

“This business is way ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainability projects, so when the Stewards got wind of this buffer zone work we were over the moon to see them leading yet again; we hope that other businesses and homes in the Bay watershed will follow example and preserve existing buffers or re-create new ones where they have been eliminated.”

Wellenberger praised the efforts of Sagamore but noted that a small percentage of the nitrogen load into the Bay comes from managed turf like golf courses and municipalities, hoping homeowners, the major contributors to nitrogen load, would also take note and apply conservation techniques to their own yards.

“This Sagamore project is great to remind individual homeowners that their residential property can have a substantial impact, especially when monthly lawn care services are used. Golf courses are very conscious of using fertilizers efficiently, but many residential lawncare companies apply fertilizers and chemicals too frequently leading to harmful nitrogen rich runoff which damages the Bay. We hope homeowners will follow Sagamore Golf’s example.”

In all, the total cost of the project is budgeted at $33,616 which will be paid through the NH DES via a Federal Grant, with UNH providing the remainder in cash and in kind services and Sagamore on the ready with their grounds crew. According to DES, “while the project addresses a small portion of the overall nitrogen reduction goal, it will achieve additional benefits in terms of creating a model and building community capacity for this type of work to continue.”

“It’s win-win models like these that will stimulate continued interest and conservation effort at a grassroots, voluntary level,” adds Luff. “We are just looking to do our part and hopefully lead by example.”

Learn more about Sagamore-Hampton Golf, visit their Business Partner page.

Find out more about the Great Bay Stewards at www.greatbaystewards.org

Get more info on the Green Alliance at www.greenalliance.biz