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French golf clubs’ plea to relax rules on reusing wastewater

Golf courses were criticised for watering greens during last year’s heatwave - but using treated wastewater comes with ‘onerous’ restrictions

The Fédération Française du Golf calls for the government to help them in their efforts to manage water use in a sustainable way Pic: Lu Mikhaylova / Shutterstock

Golf courses have been lobbying the government to make it easier for them to use reused water on their greens, ahead of the expected announcement of a new water management plan.

The measures, to be clarified at the end of January, will include ways to reduce waste and leaks in distribution networks, as well as a review of water use rules.

Read more: France must manage water better, researchers say after summer droughts

Water levels ‘pessimistic’ for 2023

Eleven departments already have restrictions in place, including five at heightened alert, meaning restrictions on watering gardens, filling pools, washing cars and watering crops.

Last year was the hottest on record in France and predictions for this year are “quite pessimistic”, says Maximilien Lambert, in charge of environmental issues at the Fédération Française du Golf.

He said there is a rainfall deficit in several regions and the groundwater table has not had time to refill after last year’s drought. There is also fairly low snowfall in the mountains.

“Southern departments are already in discussions with different parties trying to get them to use less water, so the summer will no doubt be complicated.”

Golf courses want to use wastewater on greens 

Golf course owners, criticised last year for watering during heatwaves, have been pressing for easing of “onerous” French rules on re-use of wastewater, as opposed to taking water out of the groundwater table. 

Read more: French golf course holes cemented over by climate activists

In France, 99% of used, treated water is poured into the sea, compared to 85% in Spain or 10% in Israel. 

Mr Lambert said the issue is important to them, to manage water resources in a more sustainable way. 

At present, it is difficult. Only around 20 courses out of an estimated 600 in France have systems in place, he said. “The main barrier is obtaining authorisation: the water must be of a certain quality, the wind must not be too strong to avoid any risk of spreading diseases.

“These regulations are stricter than many other countries – for example, Spain, where wastewater is used for golf courses. 

“It’s also costly, can’t  be done quickly, and means having to raise substantial sums.”

Rules on using wastewater ‘very restrictive’

Mr Lambert said an agreement has to be signed between a golf course, the local council – which often owns the treatment plant – and the managers of the plant, often part of large groups such as Suez or Véolia.

The plant then supplies treated water to the course, which uses it for watering, sometimes carrying out additional quality checks and treatments.

The current requirements – for example, on wind levels – are “very restrictive”. 

‘No risk of spreading disease’

If it is not possible to change them, they would at least like ministers to look at financial aid and help for course owners with the process. 

He said: “When we use the water, the public are not present anyway and there aren’t risks of spreading disease. 

“We are in enclosed areas that aren’t open all the time to everyone.”

He added that during restrictions in 2022 they reduced watering to 1-2% of their surfaces, concentrating on greens. Courses have spent millions in recent years on watering system improvements. 

“So it’s not like we’ve not already been working on the water question before now.”

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