And Now, a Word from Your Planet


Climate change is freaking me out. More to the point: our general refusal to acknowledge the threat of climate change is freaking me out. This province is cutting down trees and digging up coal and threatening the health of rivers like it was 1819, not 2019, so I’ve decided that where it’s applicable — and when I have sufficient time — I will add a note or two about the environmental aspects of the week’s stories.

This week, since I’m writing about golf courses, I thought I’d look at The Lakes story from an environmental perspective.


Green Stars

Did you know Golf Digest magazine presents Green Star environmental awards each year to golf courses taking measures to reduce their destructive impact on the environment?

Yeah, I didn’t either, but it does. And the 2018 winner was Trinity Forest Golf Club, an “exclusive private course” designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw (the team behind Cabot Cliffs) on a former landfill site in Dallas. Trinity Forest is:

…scruffy around the edges, with unpaved paths and mottled rough, looking far more like a municipal course than a high-end private club. And that’s by design, for the turfgrass used on this course was developed to be sustainable with less water, less chemicals and less grooming and thus will never produce the lush green cosmetics normally associated with private country club golf.

The 2015 Green Star winner was a nine-hole Michigan course designed to be entirely solar-powered.

My point is that although golf courses are notoriously bad for the environment – their enthusiastic use of pesticides pollutes ground water, their very existence often means the destruction of natural wildlife habitat and their insistence on pristine green grass means excessive water use – at least some of them are trying to mitigate their impact.

Trinity Forest Golf Club. (Photo by Scot Miller. Source:

Trinity Forest Golf Club. (Photo by Scot Miller. Source:



If the Ben Eoin Development Group Inc (BEDG), the prospective new owners of the The Lakes Golf Club, has any environmentally sustainable plans for it, their keeping them under their hats, choosing instead to announce that Phase One of their development plans includes a helipad.

Helicopters, as you might guess, have a serious carbon footprint. Take the Bell 206 helicopter (Vision Air, Nova Scotia’s helicopter charter service, flies a Bell 206B). It can carry a pilot and four passengers, so has a maximum capacity of five.

I looked up the specs online, and the Bell 206B-3 has a fuel capacity of 91 gallons (344 liters) of aviation turbine fuel and a range (with full fuel tanks and seats) of 365 nautical miles (676 kilometers) which means it gets about 2.0 km/liter.

According to the manufacturer’s website, a 2018 Dodge Journey (which seats seven) gets about 9 km/liter. (So, not great, but still 4X as efficient as the helicopter).

Apparently the greenhouse gas emissions from aviation turbine fuel are similar to those of gasoline – around 3 kg per liter — but since it would take much more fuel to travel the same distance in a helicopter versus a van, the carbon footprint of the helicopter is much larger. (The difference between distance by air versus distance by land is a factor, but generally speaking, it doesn’t seem to be enough of a factor to counterbalance the quadruple difference in fuel consumption.)

And helicopters are also hella noisy:

Helicopters can produce sound levels of up to 110 decibels, which is just slightly less than the noise produced by a large chainsaw.

Imagine walking onto one of those big green patches at The Lakes (I do not play golf) and firing up a chainsaw behind a group of intensely competitive golfers?

A Bell 206B JetRanger II helicopter. (Guillaume Paumier (user:guillom) [CC BY 2.5 (])

A Bell 206B JetRanger II helicopter. (Photo by Guillaume Paumier, user:guillom, CC BY 2.5)


Water, water

Golf courses are water hogs, but before we discuss that, a disclosure: according to a 2015 report from the Ecology Action Centre, the biggest water waster in the CBRM is the system itself:

The biggest issue for the municipality of Cape Breton is the loss of treated water through leaks in infrastructure caused in part by acidic water which for many decades before treatment, caused pipes to corrode. Although many pipes in the system have been replaced with non-corrosive piping, the remaining older infrastructure has been exposed to acidic water for a longer period of time, and consequently has a higher incidence of leakage. The CBRM utility has loss rates of 30-40%, far above the national average of 14%, and it is a challenge each year to obtain results from leak-reduction initiatives. Infrastructure includes 750 kilometres of pipes in the system, and the utility replaces 5km of pipe each year. The leak detection system is not sufficiently developed to identify leaks quickly.

That said, Canada’s Changing Climate Report warns of “an increased risk of water supply shortages in summer,” which has obvious implications for golf courses.

I realized once I started writing this that I need to contact the various Cape Breton golf clubs and ask them about their water use because the only information I can find online is general (and possibly outdated). But a 2000 report for the National Golf Course Owners Association of Canada says “a typical 18-hole golf course uses on average 800,000 litres/day.”

Rain barrel at The Ecoological Solar House is located on the Saint Helen's Island, Montreal, Canada. The solar house was designed by students of McGill University, University of Montreal and the École de technologie supérieure in the context of international competition Solar Decathlon in Washington, DC. The Ecoological Solar House, Environment Canada. (Benoit Rochon [CC BY 3.0 (])

Rain barrel at The Ecoological Solar House on l’Île Sainte-Hélène, Montréal. The solar house was designed by students of McGill University, University of Montreal and the École de technologie supérieure. (Photo by Benoit Rochon, CC BY 3.0)

Depending on the golf course, that water could be sourced from surface water (lakes and ponds), groundwater (wells) or municipal water systems. In Nova Scotia, any entity withdrawing more than 23,000 liters of ground or surface water per day requires a permit.

The 2016 Guide to Surface Water Withdrawal Approvals requires all applicants to submit water conservation plans that include general measures like:

  • Collecting and using rainwater from rooftops / parking lots for non-potable purposes
  • Reducing or eliminating withdrawals during the dry season (June 1 to September 30

But it also spells out special measures for golf courses:

  • Installing/using soil moisture sensors
  • Installing/using computerized automated soil-moisture sensing and irrigation decision-making equipment
  • Selecting turf grasses with lower water demands
  • Withholding water during grow-in to encourage deeper rooting
  • Installing storage for use during dry periods

The Guide to Groundwater Withdrawal Approvals, however, which dates to 2010, contains no requirement for a water conservation plan and doesn’t mention golf courses specifically at all.

The thrust of the report for the National Golf Course Owners Association of Canada cited above is that golf courses should start conserving water before they’re forced to do so and its author (Jim Firth) notes that some Alberta courses have begun using waste water — that is, water that has been treated to the point that it can be used for irrigation although it cannot be drunk. He states:

Golf courses should make every effort to direct surplus surface runoff into the irrigation system. This can include the harvesting of runoff from parking lots, building roofs, overland drainage and so on.

I will try to find out more about the water conservation efforts of Cape Breton golf courses — although as you are about to read, at least two seem to be addressing the issue.


Natural habitat

The Audubon Society in the United States offers certification for golf courses — the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses (ACSP). To be certified, a course must meet minimum standards for environmental planning, wildlife and habitat management, outreach and education, chemical use reduction and safety, water conservation and water quality management.

The program launched in 1991 and today there are 911 certified golf courses worldwide including — here’s some good news — both Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links.

The courses don’t say much about what any of this looks like in practice (in fact, their website goes into more detail about green initiatives they’ve undertaken in their accommodations — like high-efficiency thermostats and low-flow faucets) but achieving ACSP certification is not to be sneezed at.

So I won’t sneeze.



Featured image: Lotus Head from Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons