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A golf-course innovation that hits the green

The Indian Island Golf Course in Riverhead is

The Indian Island Golf Course in Riverhead is a favorite among locals and tourists, and is a pride among Riverhead citizens. It's located near the Stoneleigh Woods 55 and over community. (Sept. 4, 2013) Credit: Johnny Milano

Our water supply is limited. And we dump too much nitrogen into our bays and rivers. Now an innovative plan to help address both problems is coming to fruition in Suffolk County.

Beginning next year, the Riverhead Sewer District plant will pump treated wastewater into the irrigation system of the county-owned Indian Island Golf Course that abuts the plant -- 350,000 gallons per day during the months the course needs watering. The benefits are many.

Tens of millions of gallons of water each golfing season will remain in our precious aquifer instead of being used to keep the fairways green. The same volume of water, which will contain some nitrogen even after being treated to standards that allow it to be discharged into surface water, will no longer be dumped into the Peconic River, which suffers from nitrogen pollution. And most of the nitrogen that is present will be absorbed by the root system of the golf course grass, reducing the need for fertilizers. Irrigation will be done at night, minimizing the chance of occasional early morning odors.

The project is a joint endeavor of the county, state and federal governments and Riverhead Town through the Peconic Estuary Program, whose mission is to keep that vital watershed vibrant. The plan, which takes advantage of a $24-million upgrade of the plant, was 10 years in the making. It's unfortunate it took that long -- though 12 percent of golf courses nationally use recycled water for irrigation, Indian Island will be the first on Long Island -- but the result is worth applauding.

The most exciting aspect of the plan is the potential that it can be replicated throughout the county, something Suffolk officials are exploring. Suffolk has six county sewage treatment plants and 10 private plants located next to or near municipal golf courses. Making those connections on courses public and private is a score Suffolk should shoot for.