By Mike Jiggens
Mill Run Golf Club, a 45-hole golf facility in Uxbridge, Ont., is being praised as an “environmental hero” following a near $ 1-million project undertaken last year that addressed both its irrigation requirements and the need for an improved habitat for migrating fish.
The Siloam Pond had traditionally served as the club’s irrigation source since the golf course originally opened in the mid-1980s, but a dam at the pond had begun to seriously deteriorate and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment was at the same time ready to impose more restrictive water-taking regulations with on-line ponds.
Consulting with R.J. Burnside & Associates Ltd. in 2008, various options were explored to address both issues. The Pefferlaw Brook, a cold water creek system, had flowed through the large pond, but a decision was made to reroute the brook around the pond, thereby taking it off line.
The rerouting strategy not only complied with MOE regulations, but also solved the structural stability concerns of the dam.
“We could only take so much water out of the pond because it was on line,” superintendent Rod Speake said.
The project included the drilling of a new groundwater well which supplements creek flow and pond storage and meets Mill Run’s irrigation needs.
Speake said the amount of water being pumped and what the well is providing is almost in balance.
“We’re taking a little bit more out of the pond than what we can put back in, but it’s pretty close. From a water standpoint, we’re really not running out of water at all.”
Irrigation of the golf course can now be conducted throughout the day as needed, Speake said, noting last year that irrigation would be shut off following a water cycle because the club was in danger of exceeding the terms of its water-taking permit.
“We’re in a much better position as far as water usage on the golf course is concerned.”
Last year, no further daily watering would take place after 6 a.m. because the course had reached its limit by then.
Mill Run general manager Stuart Brindle said the estimated cost of repairing the deteriorating dam at Siloam Pond was between $30,000 and $40,000. Initially, that was to be the extent of the project, but, with stricter water-taking regulations looming on the horizon, the newer strategies were adopted.
“It (the project) grew and grew for all the right reasons,” he said. “When you look at the impact it’s made on the environment and for us with our permit to take water, we’re in so much better shape already.”
Mill Run’s playing surfaces were in good shape in mid-July during a summer of drought conditions while neighbouring courses experienced parched fairways and roughs in many instances.
The golf course property is fitted with an older single-row irrigation system. Impact hoses ran throughout the day to keep the rough alive during this year’s period of drought. That practice was impossible to undertake last year while the pond was on line.
Speake said in times of severe drought, members traditionally have little to complain about in terms of the length of the rough.
“As much as they’re complaining about how thick it is (now), they also like it.”
Greens and fairways are much more receptive to the ball this summer.
Ground was broken in June of 2011 to reroute Pefferlaw Brook around Siloam Pond. The “new” creek opened in November.
Much of the area carved out for the new stretch of artificial stream was a boggy area set in amidst dense wood. Speake said the excavated creek frequently caved in during construction.
“So much water came out of the banks when they were digging.”
The excessive amounts of water coming out of the ground forced the addition of rock to stabilize the banks—something that wasn’t part of the original plan.
Massive plates were used during the excavation process to prevent the machinery from sinking.
“Water still comes out of the banks quite a bit, but it’s definitely not as much.”
Other than the boggy area, the remainder of the property is pure sand.
Taken into account during construction of the rerouted brook was its water-handling capacity. Records from the past 50 years were looked at to note its highest water occurrence, and the artificial brook was constructed accordingly.
“Even if a 50-year storm came, it’s designed to handle that,” Brindle said.
Speake said a four-inch rainfall might see a slight rise in the creek’s water level, but there would be no risk of it spilling its banks.
“We don’t really have that massive flush of water that some creeks would get,” he said. “It’s nice. It stays flowing all year and comes up minimally, even through a wet period.”
The rerouted creek includes seven step pools to better allow brook trout and other fish species to migrate upstream, making the journey easier. A larger pool was strategically placed as a “rest” area for the fish.
Although artificial, the rerouting looks natural and is augmented by plantings of more than 5,000 native plants, trees and shrubs along its banks. Several volunteers and club members turned out in force in the spring to participate in a “planting day” organized by the Uxbridge Watershed Committee, Mill Run and Burnside.
Much of the construction project took place behind a park-like setting near the clubhouse which is used for wedding photography, with the scenic pond in the background. Fearing the work might disrupt wedding photography, a protective berm was meant to be built behind the wedding gazebo to hide the construction, but Speake said crews moved out of the area quickly enough to cancel plans for the berm.
Although there were few issues of concern during the construction process, the drilling of the well was another matter, Speake said.
A first attempt to drill a satisfactory groundwater well was made near Mill Run’s maintenance facility, but it produced only about 30 gallons a minute at best. It was decided to initiate a seismic study to gain a better understanding of the terrain below the ground and where there might be ample water. Speake the seismic study wasn’t cheap, but it was something he felt needed to be done to improve the club’s odds of finding the water it needed.
“For me, it was a pretty stressful time to make sure we had water.”
A big part of selling the overall project to Mill Run’s membership was the claim there would be sufficient water available for their irrigation purposes.
“We didn’t want to have to go back to the membership and say we didn’t find the water we thought.”
The second attempt at drilling a well, aided by the results of the seismic study, hit paydirt. Speake said drilling went down about 380 feet, and more than enough water was found.
Speake said he would eventually like to see the course equipped with a new irrigation system that will allow water to be put down more effectively. Its current system is as old as the golf course itself.
Part of the cost of the creek rerouting project was the installation of a new state-of-the-art pumphouse which has replaced the original 27-year-old structure that “was on its last legs.”
Speake said he is taking creek level measurements every day to determine how much water can be pumped from the creek. The creek pump is set up manually this season so that a benchmark can be established for automation in subsequent years.
The various agencies which had a hand in the project have been praising its virtues. Aside from the MOE and Uxbridge Watershed Committee, other consulting agencies included the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.
Brindle said an important environmental benefit from the project was the temperature change in the water once Siloam Pond was taken off line. When the creek flowed into the pond, where there was little or no water flow, water temperatures would increase in the pond, which wasn’t ideal for fish. Migrating fish now have a consistently cool stream to navigate. The creek water is also clean and clear.
Other environmental benefits recognized include the restoration of about 3.8 hectares of aquatic habitat, the creation of about 620 metres of aquatic habitat, the removal of a barrier for fish passage, the opening of about 17 kilometres of upstream creek channel to fish migration, and the diversion or reduction of about 17.5 kilograms of phosphorus per year.
Mill Run is spread out over about 550 acres and includes three sets of nine championship holes and an executive length course called the Highland Course. The most recently-constructed nine-hole course, the Grind, opened in 2007, and, combined with the original Rene Muylaert-designed Wheel and Grist courses, offer golfers three sets of championship layouts.
The semi-private club is soon to approve a master plan that, among other things, will look at bunker changes to update playing strategies.