Are Golf Courses Negatively Impacting the Environment?

Summer is just around the corner, and for many people that means the beginning of a new season hitting the links! I must admit that like many others, I can’t wait to get out on the golf course and play a round or two. That being said, after last season and entering the MEnv program, I began considering the potential environmental hazards associated with the construction and maintenance of golf courses. Are these beautiful emerald green courses really as green as they appear?

Many areas in North America are becoming more and more fragmented with new golf courses every year. In 2009, Florida alone had 1144 golf courses throughout the state, spanning a total area of just over 860 square kilometers [1]. Many of these courses are located in areas on shore lines or in sensitive ecological areas such as the Florida Everglades, as shown by this map of all the courses in 2009.

Not only are many of these courses situated in sensitive areas, but many of them use fertilizers and pesticides which are not only potentially harmful to ecosystems, but are also potential carcinogens for humans [2]. A 2006 study showed that U.S. golf courses used on average 112% of nitrogen and 187% of potash per acre used to fertilize corn crops [3]. In plain English this means more fertilizer was used per acre on U.S. golf courses than to grow corn. The result of this over use of fertilizers is the potential for eutrophication, adding an unintentional greenness to water bodies around golf courses, as is evident in the following image.

Furthermore, there is significant concern over the sustainability of the approximate use of 300,000 gallons a day of water for maintenance of U.S. golf courses, especially in areas of California which have sunken by more than a foot in 9 years due to aquifer demand [4]. While these concerns are well documented, there is a lack of regulation associated with golf courses. In Canada, many pesticides are banned for cosmetic use on properties, but golf courses have been exempt from the regulations [5]. It seems about time that governments do a better job to recognize the environmental concerns related to golf courses, and consider thresholds for required EIA of golf courses. British Columbia does currently have “golf resorts” built into its EIA legislation, stating that the resort must occupy an area greater than 200 hectares and possess more than 600 commercial bed units [6]. Considering an average 18 hole golf course requires 120-200 acres, the equivalent of about 50 to 80 hectares, not many new courses will require environmental impact assessments [7].

However, many golf course owners have realized the need to promote good environmental management of their courses. Alan Morton, owner of Golf Griffon Des Sources in Mirabel, Quebec, has implemented woodland corridors throughout his course to reduce habitat fragmentation as well as the use of liquid compost treatment to reduce the need for pesticides [5]. Even the great Nick Faldo, who now designs golf courses after a successful PGA career, promotes the notion that “as the world’s natural landscapes become more endangered, our most fundamental job as course designers is to create beautiful playing venues that also preserve and protect the environment” [8]. Golf courses may have the potential to cause environmental degradation, but the golf community also has an opportunity to be a leader in terms of sustainable development. As more courses are inevitably created, they should be designed in an environmentally friendly manner, so that we can keep enjoying the sport for years to come.

References

[1] Florida Geographic Data Library. (2009). Florida Golf Courses in 2009. Retrieved March 25th 2015, from http://www.fgdl.org/metadata/fgdc_html/par_golf_09.fgdc.htm

[2] Knopper, L., & Lean, D. (2004). Carcinogenic And Genotoxic Potential Of Turf Pesticides Commonly Used On Golf Courses. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B, 7(4), 267-279.

[3] Environmental Institute for Golf (2006). Golf Course Environmental Profile. Retrieved March 26th 2015, from http://www.eifg.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/golf-course-environmental-profile-nutrient-report.pdf

[4] Barton, J. (2008). How Green if Golf? Retrieved March 26th 2015, from http://www.golfdigest.com/images/magazine/2008/05/gd200805golfenvironment.pdf

[5] Oosthoek, S., (2011). How Golf Courses Are Getting Greener. Retrieved March 26th 2015, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/careers/top-employers/how-golf-courses-are-getting-greener/article577697/

[6] British Columbia Environmental Assessment Act Reviewable Projects Regulation(2012) Retrieved March 26th 2015, from http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/370_2002

[7] American Society of Golf Architects. (n.d.) FAQ: How much land do I need to build a golf course? Retrieved March 27th 2015, from http://www.asgca.org/frequently-asked-questions/174

[8] Nick Faldo Design. (n.d.). Sustainability. Retrieved March 27th 2015, from http://nickfaldodesign.com/sustainability

New Prosperity – Same Old Result: Revisiting Taseko’s Gold-Copper Mine Proposal

Two years ago, another MEnv student wrote about the Prosperity mine in British Columbia. This was a mining project which was approved in the BC provincial environmental assessment process in 2009 but rejected in the federal process. Within the post, the student writes “an in depth comparison shall be necessary once the environmental impact assessment is officially completed under the CEAA 2012”, and two years later, the results are in! In February 2012, a decision statement was issued by the Canadian Minister of the Environment, Leona Aglukkaq, stating that Taseko (the proponent) once again would not be granted permission for development [1]. After reviewing and writing a 7000 word paper on the most recent environmental impact statement submitted to the review panel by Taseko, it was not surprising to me why their project was denied approval.

Taseko attempted to deal with the concerns raised in 2009 about fish habitat by implementing new mitigation measures to preserve some of the habitat which originally would have been destroyed, explained through this video.

If you’re pressed for time, skip ahead to 5:40 where Taseko claims that their tailings pond will create suitable habitat for fish. Unfortunately for Taseko, much of the science underpinning this claim came into question during the review process. A study of the project’s tailings storage facility launched by Natural Resources Canada found a seepage rate eleven times higher than the predicted values in the environmental assessment [2].

Taseko have also failed to obtain free, prior, and informed consent from First Nations within the region, something considered to be part of best practice in mining [3]. The mitigation measures implemented by Taseko in their New Prosperity proposal did not do enough to convince the Tsilhqot’in First Nations that the project is safe. This was exemplified by Chief William who stated that “the Tsilhqot’in Nation remains unified in its opposition to this project because of the tremendous destruction it would mean for critical traditional lands and waters and the cultural survival of the Tsilhqot’in people”[4].  The Tsilhqot’in made history in 2014 when the Supreme Court of Canada upheld its land title claim to 1700 square kilometers [5]. Making the matter even more confusing is that the granted land claim shows that the New Prosperity mine is not directly on Tsilhqot’in territory, leading Taseko to believe their project should now move forward [6]. This is an example of how an overarching agreement, such as the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) in Quebec, between government and First Nations, would not only benefit private industry but also help in protecting the traditions and cultures of First Nations.

Tsilhqot’in protest the Prosperity mine

New Prosperity is an example of a project which is a risk to the environment. Questionable science has been used, and I believe the proper decision was made. However, like a child who won’t take no for an answer, Taseko is filing a lawsuit against the federal government. They are seeking damages for the rejection of their project. The legitimacy of EIA might be questioned if a project is rejected and companies receive damages for money spent on projects prior to approval. As Tim Timberg, lawyer for the federal Environment Minister put it, “the real remedy Taseko seeks remains the same – to quash these administrative decisions and allow them to proceed with the construction of the proposed mine” [7]. This mining project is not only important for the area where it will be built, but also will speak volumes about the legitimacy and integrity of environmental assessment in Canada. Will Taseko be granted another chance for approval due to their increasing legal pressures on the federal government? Only time will tell…

References

[1] Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. (2014, February 25). Decision Statement Issued under Section 54 of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/document-eng.cfm?document=98458

[2] Natural Resources Canada. (2013, July 4). Numerical Modeling of Groundwater Seepage from the Tailings Storage Facility of the Proposed Taseko New Prosperity Gold-Copper Mine Project. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/documents/p63928/90733E.pdf

[3] International Council on Mining and Metals. (2015). 10 Principles. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://www.icmm.com/our-work/sustainable-development-framework/10-principles

[4] Zilker, Wolfgang. (2013, June 20). Tsilhqot’in Nation Prepares for Public Hearings for Controversial New Prosperity Mine Proposal as Taseko Mines Ltd. Refuses to Answer Direct Requests from the Panel. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://www.protectfishlake.ca/letters/2013-06/tsilhqot-146-in-nation-prepares-for-public-hearings-for-controversial-new-prosperity-mine-proposal-as-taseko-mines-ltd-refuses-to-answer-direct-requests-from-the-panel.php

[5] CBC News. (2014, June 26). Tsilhqot’in First Nation granted B.C. title claim in Supreme Court ruling. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/tsilhqot-in-first-nation-granted-b-c-title-claim-in-supreme-court-ruling-1.2688332

[6] Klein, Greg. (2014, June 26). Taseko Says Land Claims Ruling Shows New Prosperity Outside Aboriginal Territory. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://resourceclips.com/2014/06/26/taseko-says-land-claims-ruling-shows-new-prosperity-outside-aboriginal-territory/

[7] Moore, Dene. (2014, October 22). Taseko says Environment Minister’s rejection of B.C. mine improper. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/taseko-says-environment-ministers-rejection-of-bc-mine-improper/article21250492/

Is Canada Showing Up For Climate Change?

by Jon Ruse

The UN recently held a climate change summit in New York City on September 23rd 2014, the results of which seem optimistic for the future of the climate change issue. Leaders from some of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases were on hand, including the USA and Great Britain. While no negotiations related to the UNFCCC take place until 2015, some of the important commitments in terms of greenhouse gas emissions were discussed[1].Leading up to the summit, there was cause for concern amongst Canadian politicians, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced he would not be attending, despite being in New York.

Are the other political parties in Canada just over concerned or is there a reason why the Prime Minister might not be so eager to attend climate summits that our closest allies’ heads of state attend?

Looking at Canadian greenhouse gas emissions Since the Harper government took over in 2006, it is true that total emissions have reduced from 728 megatonnes CO2 equivalent to 699 megatonnes CO2 equivalent[2].  However, much of this decline is due to the economic recession of 2008 and greenhouse gas emissions are expected to once again begin increasing [3]. Also, the largest decrease in emissions from a provincial standpoint is from Ontario who reduced their emissions from 206 megatonnes CO2 equivalent to 166 megatonnes[2]. This is mainly due to provincial efforts to eliminate coal as an energy source[4]. How about the Prime Minister’s home province of Alberta? The following figure shows greenhouse gas emissions for 1990, 2005 and 2012 by province:

image courtesy environment canada ( https://www.ec.gc.ca/indicateurs-indicators/default.asp?lang=en&n=18F3BB9C-1 )

Most of this large increase is due to the tar sands, and shockingly, if Alberta was its own country, it would have the highest emissions per capita in the world[5]. This fact is reflected in the government’s lack of regulation of the tar sands and greenhouse gas emissions in the environmental assessment process. While the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act has a general guide for practitioners with respect to climate change, it states that “climate change parameters are not explicitly identified in Canadian EA legislation and there remains a lack of legally binding federal, provincial or territorial regulations or targets for GHG emission reductions.[6]” Furthermore, after admitting they would not come close to greenhouse gas reduction targets, the federal government announced that in-situ oil sands projects would not require a federal impact assessment[7]. This is shocking considering the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers estimates that 80 percent of oil sands reserves will be extracted in-situ[8]. The Pembina Institute estimates that in-situ production causes emissions of 91 Kilograms of CO2 equivalent per barrel vs just 36 for regular mining[9]. To reach greenhouse gas emissions targets that Canada has agreed upon in the Copenhagen accord, the federal government should not be turning a blind eye on such a large percentage of potential emissions. Based on the Conservative government’s lack of responsibility when it comes to climate issues. When it comes to the climate, the New York summit is just another example of many where Prime Minister Harper has decided not to shown up.

References

[1] United Nations. (2014, September 23). 2014 Climate Change Summary – Chair’s Statement. Retrieved October 4th 2014, from http://www.un.org/climatechange/summit/2014/09/2014-climate-change-summary-chairs-summary/.

[2] Environment Canada. (2014, April 11). Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data. Retrieved October 4th 2014, from http://www.ec.gc.ca/indicateurs-indicators/default.asp?n=BFB1B398.

[3] Environment Canada. (2011, May 30). Canada’s Emissions Trends. Retrieved October 4th 2014, from http://www.ec.gc.ca/doc/publications/cc/COM1374/ec-com1374-en-es.htm.

[4] Ontario Ministry of Energy. (2010). Ontario’s Long Term Energy Plan. Retrieved October 5th 2014, from http://www.energy.gov.on.ca/en/files/2014/09/MEI_LTEP_en.pdf#page=20.

[5] Pembina Institute. (n.d.). Alberta’s Oil Sands Climate Impacts. Retrieved October 5th 2014, from http://www.pembina.org/oil-sands/os101/climate.

[6] Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. (2012, July 6). Incorporating Climate Change Considerations in Environmental Assessment: General Guidance for Practitioners. Retrieved October 5th 2014, from http://www.ceaa.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=A41F45C5-1&offset=2&toc=show.

[7] Global News. (2013, October 26). Federal Government Backs Off Oilsands Assessments. Retrieved October 5th 2014, from http://globalnews.ca/news/927583/federal-government-backs-off-oilsands-assessments/.

[8]Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. (2014). What Are Oil Sands? Retrieved October 5th 2014, from http://www.capp.ca/canadaIndustry/oilSands/Energy-Economy/Pages/what-are-oilsands.aspx.

[9]Pembina Institue. (n.d.). Mining vs. In-Situ Fact Sheet. Retrieved October 6th 2014, from https://www.pembina.org/reports/mining-vs-in-situ.pdf.