Mitchell G&CC: Water Use Fine "A Settlement"

A few weeks ago a G4G reader sent me a note about a fine of $25,000 to Mitchell G&CC near Stratford for “excessive water use.” Here’s the short blurb that appeared in the London Free Press:

STRATFORD — Mitchell Golf Club Inc. was fined $25,000 in provincial offences court Tuesday for using excessive amounts of water in 2007.

The Ministry of Environment issued the golf course permits for irrigation and other uses from the Thames River.

Justice Terence Steenson accepted guilty pleas on five charges for exceeding the permitted limit and a joint submission on penalty of $5,000 on each count against the corporation.

A couple of weeks back Rob Steinbach, president of the semi-private club with about 500 members that does about 30,000 rounds annually, called me to talk about the issues. He said the club was allowed to draw 700,000 litres of water from a nearby waterway if water was running over a specific point. If it dropped below that point, the club was only allowed to take 675 litres — enough “run our washrooms,” says Steinbach.

Interestingly, if you Google Mitchell Golf and “water,” you find this post from the club’s superintendent dating back to 2007:

Even though this has been an extremely dry summer, the rains we have received of late have been great.  Our water levels were almost down to the point where we would have had to stop pumping, due the limitations of our water permit issued by the Ministry of the Environment (M.O.E).  Speaking of the M.O.E., we have had two surprise inspections, first by the water division.  They wanted to see that we were in compliance with the permit.  The second visit was by the pesticide division.  After the M.O.E looked over our records and did a visual inspection, everything was satisfactory.


Fred Schmoelzl, Golf Course Superintendent

So did the club violate the water rule? “Yes, we took more than we should have,” Steinbach says. “Basically there was a settlement.”  But he didn’t want to add much beyond that, saying he had to be very careful with any remarks about the situation. I asked him if he felt this incident provided more fuel for the fire of activists and others who say golf is bad for the environment. “I really can’t comment,” Steinbach said.

He did point out the club was trying to guarantee the issue wouldn’t come up again but adding a holding pond and a well. But he admitted Mitchell was struggling to make that work.

“The club has been here for decades,” he said. “And we’ve been taking water for years before there was any consideration given to this.”

He’s right — the club (est. 1930) predates Ministry of Environment rules. But that doesn’t help its case.

Do I feel this is significant? What actually happened probably harmed no one. But the perception of what happened is more damaging. If this involved a more high profile club, the impact on Ontario golf could have been significant — or at least raised the issue of water use at a time when many clubs are struggling to find a way to satisfy their water requirements going forward.

A lot of this could be solved by referencing what I mentioned the other day: Brown is the new green.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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