Lean & Green: Best GEM practices for wash pads

Lean & Green: Best GEM practices for wash pads

Bill Bushman: Wash pad water use should receive specific attention.

July 12, 2010
Bill Bushman
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Over the years, golf course wash pads have evolved from a simple spigot and a length of hose to six-figure, miniature water treatment plants with more amenities than some third world country’s drinking water system. As sustainability and environmental stewardship take on ever-larger roles in the daily management of golf courses, the days of the haphazardly constructed asphalt pavement with the proverbial plugged drain and the unwelcome, piercing aroma are long gone. 

As all uses of water on a golf course are worthy of scrutiny, wash pad water use should receive specific attention from management. In contrast to using water to sustain turfgrass playing areas, wash pads generally use potable water sources for cleaning expensive, highly complex equipment. In the process, the consequential wastewater can become laden with clippings, soil, sand, oils, grease and residues from recently applied pesticides and fertilizers. Obviously, there is potential for negative environmental impacts.  Protecting water resources, both on and off your golf course property, is relatively simple.  Key question on this issue – if the wash pad wastewater can possibly leave your property, will it meet local, state and federal quality standards when it does?

There are several Best GEM Practices to protect your community’s surface and groundwater from the two critical aspects of wash pad wastewater – particulates and hydrocarbons.  Maintaining your equipment in a lean and green manner demands pointed examination of the issues in an organized manner that results in functional compliance through informed decision-making.  The five-step GEM process is a proven way to get there.

Whether you are considering upgrading your existing wash pad or are starting from scratch designing a new maintenance complex, there are several issues to consider in the analysis phase of the GEM process.  Three major aspects of wash pad analysis include location, size and your specific local and state regulatory requirements. 

The ideal location for your wash pad is along your primary equipment circulation routes between the course and the equipment parking area.  Increased convenience and improved efficiency are just two positive results of locating your wash pads along this route.  Locating your refueling stations nearby can also be handy and efficient as your equipment operators prepare their machines for the next day’s use.

The size of your wash pad is dependent on several issues specific to your operation.  How many holes and operators needing to wash down their equipment at potentially the same time at the end of the workday may be the primary consideration.  Having your workers killing time waiting their turn at the wash pad can eat into your operating budget when calculated over the long term. 

Another way to improve your labor efficiency while minimizing organic loading on your wash pad is to ask your employees to use hand held blowers or well-located compressed air stations to remove the bulk of clippings somewhere on the course.  Eliminating grass clippings also removes pesticide or fertilizer residues.  Accomplishing this before introducing water to the equation is another Best GEM Practice.

Over the years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has passed compliance with the Clean Water Act on to many states, further complicating wash pad compliance.  Wastewater discharges are usually subject to some type of permitting process.  Since 1994, discharging wastewater to surface water required a facility to secure a federal permit under NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System). 

As a reminder, laws can be highly variable around the country.  In some states, septic systems are acceptable.  In others, wastewater may not leave the property.  Other states allow “treated wastewaters” – those cleansed of potentially contaminating components – to leave the property through permitted and most probably monitored outfalls.  It is imperative to check closely on your specific requirements before you design, construct or renovate your wash pad and its components.

With location, size and specific regulatory requirements in hand, one can begin the wash pad design and construction.  This is an important step as there is still time to consult with a vendor, environmental manager and/or your regulator before committing time and money to the effort.  An extra dose of expertise can make or break your project.  Checking yourself – and your consultants – can really pay off.  One of the general Best GEM Practices is to “do everything as well as possible the first time!”  There is so much to do; who has the time to go back and do them again.

In concert with that thought, when it comes time to implement your new construction or renovation, be sure to check the work regularly.  Having a presence on site at this time will ensure that none of the hard work in the analysis and documentation phases of the GEM process will go to waste.  Timely completion of tasks such as approving the final wash pad site, locating underground utilities and approving submittals go along way towards ensuring a quality project.

Once all of the elements of your project are in place, it is important to monitor the results of your actions.  True continual improvement processes like the GEM, require vigilance by the manager to regularly determine if there is any way to make things better.  Another consideration is the fact that laws and regulations can change at any time underscoring the idea that having a personal relationship with your regulator can pay huge dividends.

In this phase of the GEM process, managers implement changes based on their observations during the evaluation phase.  Incremental improvements can be highly successful and relatively easy and economical.  If all phases of the process were dutifully undertaken, revisions should be minor. 

In summary, utilize Best GEM Practices for wash pads to improve stewardship, reduce impacts and improve your triple bottom line. 

Bushman is the director of Ecodesigns International, a golf course management consulting firm.  Contact him at ecodesigns@satx.rr.com.