sealPurdue News

July 8, 2002

Golf course wetlands prove valuable environmental tool

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Golfers may see it as just another water hazard, but, in fact, the constructed wetlands on Purdue University's Kampen Course prevent potential pollutants from damaging the environment.

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A study also has revealed that the constructed wetlands' efficacy in enhancing water quality improves as the system ages, according to Purdue researchers. Their findings could provide solutions for protection of similar areas by using urban golf courses.

The cleanup occurs when microscopic organisms – primarily bacteria – wetland plants, sediments and golf course grass trap and use much of the residue that otherwise might harm environmentally sensitive areas, the researchers said.

"This is an ongoing study of how created wetlands on a golf course can filter water from commercial and residential areas to protect the environment," said Zac Reicher, Purdue Department of Agronomy turf specialist.

The five-year water monitoring project, begun in 1998, uses three wetland cells (ponds) incorporated into the renovated Pete Dye-designed golf course.

The researchers wanted to determine whether constructed wetlands on a golf course could substantially improve water quality by reducing or even eradicating chemicals such as atrazine, chloride, nitrogen nitrate, ammonia nitrogen, organic carbon, phosphorus, aluminum, iron, potassium, manganese and various solids before the water entered natural waterways. In this study, the recovering natural wetland is West Lafayette's Celery Bog bordering the Kampen Course, part of Purdue's Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex.

"We already knew that proper use of fertilizers and pesticides on golf courses does not add any chemicals to surface or ground water," Reicher said. "In fact, the grass itself actually will use or trap most of the nutrients and chemicals contained in runoff from adjacent areas."

The tracts from which runoff flows into the golf course wetland system includes not only the golf course but also two residential highways, a motel parking lot, a gas station and 200 homes.

"This system has allowed us to integrate golf aesthetics with the protection of natural wetland systems," said Ron Turco, soil microbiologist and director of the Purdue Environmental Sciences and Engineering Institute. "Although we knew that both wetlands and golf courses can improve the quality of runoff water, studying how they work together will help us incorporate constructed wetlands into existing settings and to optimize their use."

Design of the wetlands is important in maintaining plant life and microbes that remove chemicals from the water, Turco said. Currently most wetlands are designed for aesthetics rather than to optimize protection of the environment.

In order to understand the water flow and chemical behavior in the wetland, the researchers use two types of dyes that are harmless to plants and animals to track how fast water moves through the wetland system.

"Through this research, we have discovered that we need to vary both the speed at which the water moves through and also the water's depth," said Amanda Lopez , a research team member and agronomy graduate student. "It's good to have a mixture of deep and shallow water so that we have a varied population of microbes, thus improving the efficiency of the constructed wetlands."

The three constructed wetland ponds, along with a water retention pond, are situated so they will catch most of the runoff water from the golf course and the adjacent urban area. Water travels through the constructed wetlands to the retention pond and then is recycled for golf course irrigation before draining into Celery Bog. Prior to the course renovation, most of the water went directly into the natural wetland without benefit of cleanup by the constructed wetlands.

The researchers use six water quality monitors, or water samplers, located along the wetland system. The first is at the inlet to the golf course's east end, which monitors content of water entering the course. The sixth monitor, at the outlet of the course's northwest end, shows the amount and types of chemicals still in the water when it enters Celery Bog. These water samplers measure oxygen, conductivity of chemicals, temperature and pH level.

The study has yielded some surprising information, including showing that oil and grease are almost non-existent in water entering the constructed wetlands despite the adjacent highways and parking lot. In addition, no heavy metals, such as mercury or lead, have been detected.

The latest chemical analyses of the runoff water exiting the golf course offer a positive environmental outlook: No unusually high levels of any potential pollutants were detected. Some aluminum, magnesium and silicon were occasionally recorded, but that was most likely erosion from bunker sand, researchers said.

The amount and type of pollutant varies depending on the season of the year, with the wetlands' cleaning of the water being more efficient during the spring and summer, the researchers said. During storms, the amount of chemicals also can differ. For instance, during storms in June 1998 and April 2001, atrazine was detected in water entering the course. However, the number of contaminants found in the runoff water exiting the golf course has steadily declined as the constructed wetlands system has matured.

"Wetlands can be more than just a challenge to golfers," Reicher said. "They also can benefit people and the environment. Use of wetlands in conjunction with golf courses can make those 18 fairways and greens good neighbors by cleaning up the water."

The U.S. Golf Association and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are providing funding for this research.

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A video news release with sound bites and B-roll is available from the Agricultural Communication Service.

Writer: Susan A. Steeves, (765) 496-7481,

Sources: Zachary Reicher, (765) 494-9737,

Ron Turco, (765) 494-8077,

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes,;

Related Web sites:
Purdue Turfgrass program

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Wetlands Inventory
Environmental Protection Agency, America's Wetlands

Agronomy graduate student Amanda Lopez draws a water sample from a pond near the 12th green on the Kampen Golf Course. Lopez is part of a research team studying how wetlands can filter water from commercial areas to protect the environment. (Agricultural Communication Service photo by Tom Campbell)

A publication-quality photograph is available at

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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