Need to Know: Golf Course Water Withdrawal Permits

November 10, 2016

Golf Course Water Withdrawal Permit Renewals: What You Need To Know

By Sarah W. Stearns, Beals and Thomas, Inc., GCSANE Affiliate Member and Patron Partner 

As published in the October 2016 newsletters of the Golf Course Superintendent Associations of New England and Cape Cod (GCSANE and GCSACC)


At a recent GCSANE meeting at Concord Country Club, Duane swsLeVangie, of the MA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), with collaboration from his staff, presented current and helpful information regarding upcoming permit renewal requirements for golf courses under the Water Management Act (WMA).

The WMA governs water allocation throughout the Commonwealth and after a DEP policy was enacted in June 2000, golf courses were formally required to apply for and maintain permits for water usage over 100,000 gallons per day (gpd). See DEP Golf Course Water Use Policy.

There are two permitting mechanisms for golf courses to withdraw large volumes of surface and/or groundwater: WMA Registrations and WMA Permits.  According to DEP, about 93 golf courses currently operate under WMA Registrations, while about 60 courses currently operate under WMA Permits. Superintendents should understand which category they fall under and be prepared for the renewal processes.  There are a number of distinctions between these two categories:

Registrations are valid for 10 years, have fewer imposed conditions and will likely continue to operate as such unless a regulatory change is undertaken

  • Registrations were issued in the early 1980s and will renew in 2021
  • Registrations are not subject to basin Safe Yield limitations

Permits are valid for 20 years and are subject to conditions

  • Issued Permits are currently being renewed according to basin location.
  • Permits are subject to basin Safe Yield thresholds and incorporate the Sustainable Water Management Initiative (SWMI) into the permit renewal process
  • New Permit Conditions:
  1. Seasonal Demand Management Plan

– Reduce nonessential water use

– Drought levels will trigger irrigation reduction

  1. Protect Coldwater Fisheries Resources (CFRs)

– If applicable, optimize withdrawals

  1. Minimization of impacts

– Optimize well use

– Other conservation practices beyond standard requirements

  1. Mitigation for increase above calculated, established baseline

– Course-specific tiered mitigation

– Direct mitigation (i.e. stormwater management system updates)

– Indirect mitigation (i.e. Audubon Sanctuary Program certification)

DEP is taking a course-by-course approach to the permit renewal process and seems willing to discuss the process and specific requirements with superintendents and other club management.  For more information, please contact me at 508-366-0560 or