Palm Beach County's Osprey Point Golf Course faces new water fight

Environmentally-friendly changes were supposed to transform Palm Beach County 's new Osprey Point Golf Course from a water hog into a conservation poster child.

But residents living near the new 27-hole golf course west of Boca Raton worry that a redesign aimed at protecting water supplies at the nearby Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge could end up lowering their community ponds instead.

Water supply concerns in 2007 stopped construction of the golf course at South County Regional Park, but after a redesign it opened in 2010 and won an environmental award for reducing irrigation and incorporating more native landscaping.

Now some residents living near the year-old golf course are upset, arguing that pumping water to supplement golf course irrigation threatens to drain community lakes during future droughts.

Mission Bay off Glades Road objects to construction of a well near the neighborhood that would provide back-up water for the golf course's irrigation system. The "well is not acceptable" and should not be used during droughts, Mission Bay Community Association President Mark Mino wrote in a letter to water regulators.

"The liabilities and disadvantages far exceed the benefits," Mino said.

County officials dispute that the new well poses a threat to Mission Bay's lake levels.

The $14 million golf course that opened in November 2010 was designed to use 30-40 percent less water than once envisioned and the new well is only a potential back-up water supply, said Eric Call, county parks and recreation director.

The well hasn't been used yet and the golf course so far hasn't needed to draw all the water its permits allow, according to the county.

"One well in that area would have no impact," Call said.

The well ended up closer to Mission Bay because of concerns that putting the well farther west would take water from the nearby wildlife refuge – the northern reaches of the Everglades.

Aside from the aesthetic concerns about neighborhood ponds drying up, worsening low-water problems threaten to destabilize lake banks, posing a potential safety risk to children and other residents, according to Mission Bay.

"We view our rights to use water and have acceptable water levels in our lakes … as rights that must be protected," Mino said.

Mission Bay in December called for the South Florida Water Management District to revoke the county's authority to use the well. District officials are still reviewing the neighborhood concerns.

Environmentalists' objections in 2007 prompted the South Florida Water Management District to put the brakes on Palm Beach County 's construction of the Osprey Point Golf Course.

The county was trying to get a water permit for the golf course in the midst of a drought that triggered emergency watering restrictions for South Florida homes and businesses.

In response to the backlash, the county worked with environmental groups to come up with a redesign that included: planting grass that required less watering and fertilizing, incorporating more of the natural landscape into the course design and using drought tolerant, native vegetation as landscaping.

Last year, Osprey Point became the second golf course in the country and the first in Florida to get the Audubon International Classic Sanctuary classification, awarded to golf courses for environmental stewardship.

1000 Friends of Florida is one of the environmental groups the county worked with to come up with ways to lessen the golf course's water needs.

"It's better than what we hoped it would be," Joanne Davis of 1000 Friends said about the golf course. "They (may) never even have to use that well. … It's not going to affect the neighborhood."


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