Golf courses are known for having beautifully green, weed-free turf. But this perfection comes at a price. Many grasses on our local golf courses are not native to Ontario and require intense maintenance not only to stay green and lush but also to ensure their very survival. Cutting them so short stresses the grass. If left unmanaged, they quickly succumb to weeds, insect predators, fungal diseases, and are overtaken by local, more resistant grasses and plants.
In order to maintain their pristine condition, golf courses use many types of pesticides (insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides) – about 20 different types in the Collingwood Blue Mountains area and in many cases up to seven times the average amount used on farms. While pesticides are excellent at killing off targeted insects, unwanted plants, and fungi, when applied to golf course turf, pesticides can migrate to groundwater and nearby streams. There, they can damage the surrounding environment, often killing off native aquatic and insect life, and posing a danger to our drinking water.
Golf course pesticides in the Blue Mountain Watershed
We have seven golf courses in the Blue Mountain watershed, both private and semi-private. Because the public and semi-private courses in our area use more native grasses, they only use about one sixth of the pesticides of private clubs. Private golf courses are the greatest contributors of pesticides to our local environment, and over 80% of these pesticides are fungicides. Long term use or overuse of fungicides makes fungal diseases resistant to those chemicals. This usually forces users to apply more fungicides or switch to other pesticides and pesticide mixtures to achieve the desired effect.
Challenges with regulation, reporting & testing
It must be understood that area golf courses are not breaking the law. The issue we have is with Ontario’s regulations on golf course pesticide use. Although our area golf courses are required to report the pesticides that they use and how much they apply each season, this information is often not–and does not need to be–reported for as long as 20 months after the fact.
For most of the pesticides used on our golf courses, there exist no current federal or provincial regulations on maximum allowable levels that can run off into nearby streams and water bodies. Furthermore, for some of the pesticides on our local golf courses there are no laboratories in Canada that can test for their presence. Yet the labeling on all of these products states that they pose a danger to human health and/or the environment.
We have repeatedly engaged the Ontario government on golf course pesticides, with some success, as outlined in our 2018 Pesticide Report. Here are the four issues that we outlined:
The use of a Class 9 pesticide or pesticide mixture on a golf course should be prohibited until there is a published Provincial Water Quality Objective (PWQO) for that pesticide
The use of a Class 9 pesticide on a golf course should be prohibited where the pesticide concentration cannot be analyzed down to the level of the PWQO by an accredited Canadian laboratory
Regulations are needed that would require routine monitoring under the Pesticides Act for watercourses flowing from golf courses that use Class 9 pesticides
The current deadlines allow the regulated usage reports to be published by golf courses up to 20 months after application, which is much too late for any corrective action. We propose publication of usage no later than five days after application
The Watershed Trust’s Role
Since 2008, the Watershed Trust has been conducting regular sampling of water runoff from area golf courses and documenting our findings. This is expensive: it cost us approximately $1600 to send out water samples to accredited laboratories to test for four pesticides. Furthermore, of the top 10 pesticides there are two that no laboratory in Canada can analyze: fosetyl-aluminum and propiconazole.
We have contacted Environment Canada, Health Canada, as well as the Ministry of the Environment to voice our concerns and to make our recommendations. We continue to communicate with federal and provincial authorities with the intention of improving the legislative framework around pesticide use and its impact on water quality.
You can help
You can help the Trust in its efforts by becoming a member or by making a tax-deductible donation. If you are a golfer, inquire about your golf course’s pesticide use and encourage management to adopt more sustainable turf management practices.
You can also write to:
Chris Ballard, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change (Provincial)
Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change
11th Floor, Ferguson Block
77 Wellesley Street West
Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Health (Federal)
272 St-George Street
Moncton, New Brunswick