EPA funds Indiana University research on environmentally friendly golf courses

  • March 24, 2015


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University students dug in the rough off the 16th green at a golf course, but they weren’t searching for a lost ball. They were searching for a solution to a problem that confronts golf courses and their neighbors around the world: how to limit the run-off of chemical-laden storm water.

The students built a specially designed berm and plugged it with plantings that should reduce the pollution produced by the course.

“Building berms is hard work but worthwhile because what we learn here could have a positive impact on hundreds of golf courses and the surrounding neighborhoods and environment in how we manage storm water,” said Melissa Clark, director of the project and a member of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs faculty at IU Bloomington. “Many golf courses apply heavy doses of chemicals, and we want to discover the best practices for steering storm water quantity and quality.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is funding the research project as part of its People, Prosperity and the Planet program. The students used the IU Golf Course in Bloomington as their laboratory. The project should reduce the amount of chemical-laden storm water that flows into areas surrounding the golf course, including the Griffy Lake Nature Preserve.

“We’re building something called a ‘WASCOB,’ and that stands for water and sediment control basin,” SPEA graduate student Maggie Messerschmidt said as she directed a team of 10 students. “We are vegetating it with plants that we have been cultivating for over a year now. They should slow the flow down so there isn’t so much wear and tear on our rivers.”

The IU group is one of 42 student teams around the nation to receive People, Prosperity and the Planet grants of up to $15,000 for projects that deliver sustainable, alternative approaches to address environmental problems.

The IU team calls itself the RAIN Initiative -- Restorative Adaptations for Infrastructure. It was founded by SPEA graduate students and is directed by Clark and IU faculty members Keith Clay and Heather Reynolds, both in the Department of Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences, with support from the IU Office of Sustainability and the IU Research and Teaching Preserve.

Clark said that installing WASCOBs is a low-cost way golf courses can protect the environment.

“In general, golf courses can assist community in managing storm water quantity by providing open space to place these distributed best-management practices,” she said. “They also provide aesthetic landscaping features to the courses, so it’s a win-win.”

A video of the installation process at the golf course can be viewed online.

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SPEA students working at golf course

Indiana University students plant specially selected shrubs on a newly constructed berm alongside a hole at the IU Golf Course. The plants and berm are designed to keep chemicals applied to the course from entering the water supply.

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