UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
Do you ever feel like this industry is always under the public microscope? Heightened environmental concerns in recent years have caused more scrutiny of practices that some consider non-essential to society. Turf management is one practice that is receiving such scrutiny. As research is conducted to ascertain the environmental impact of turf management, results mostly indicate the presence of maintained turf offers enhancement rather than detriment.
Environmental benefits offered by turf include:
Reduced sediment loss
Reduced surface — water and nutrient runoff and nutrient leaching
Increased evaporative cooling and
Mitigation of dust and smog-produced ozone and sulfur dioxide
In addition to environmental benefits, turf also contributes to human health and safety through its:
Cushioning effect on sports fields and
Ability to compete with allergy-producing weeds.
Many of these benefits are overlooked and supplanted with a focus strictly on aesthetic benefits that some consider non-essential to society.
While I was professor at University of Maryland, I conducted studies that focused on turf's ability to reduce runoff, sediment loss and nutrient leaching. I found that sediment loss was reduced 10 times by turf cover compared to bare ground, runoff volume was 50 percent less in turf and runoff initiation time was five times longer in turf versus bare ground. Many other researchers have found similar results. Still, most states and the US Environmental Protection Agency consider turf as a non-point source of pollution (by comparison, an industrial plant or sewerage-treatment plant is considered a point-source polluter). The fact is, turf can be a non-point source polluter if you don't manage it properly.
You can reduce potential impacts by relying on IPM techniques, avoiding over-application of fertilizer and pesticides, avoiding application of these products to non-target impervious surfaces, maximizing use of slow release fertilizers in comparison to more soluble forms, selecting appropriate species for the area and avoiding over watering. The best way to keep the heat off is to be a good steward and follow common-sense turf management.
Unfortunately, regulation of our practices is inevitable. The problem with this is that regulatory agencies must utilize models and often times worst-case assumptions in evaluating the impact of any non-point source polluter. Depending on the model, turf may or may not be considered a serious polluter. Regulations that stipulate the total maximum daily loads (TMDL) of pesticides and fertilizers have already been established in some states. The EPA is currently working on a new TMDL ruling (the first 2000 TMDL ruling never took effect). We'll keep you posted on how this develops.
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