This story originally appeared on NJ Spotlight.
The manager of the Trump National Golf Club at Bedminster on Monday defended his request for the continued supply of 63 million gallons of water a year, as environmentalists urged state officials to reject the application, saying it was not in the public interest.
The golf club is asking the New Jersey Water Supply Authority, a public body, to extend a contract that has allowed it to irrigate greens and supply water to its clubhouse since 2010. Critics say the plan to withdraw that added amount from ground- and surface-water sources would strain supplies from local waterways, and that the water would be obtained at a much cheaper rate than what is paid by private residents. The contract is due to expire at the end of this year.
“It would use 63 million gallons a year of water that belongs to the public, not the golf course,” said Bill Kibler, policy director of Raritan Headwaters, an environmental group that opposes the application, during a virtual hearing held by the authority to gather public comments.
Before the hearing, Kibler said his group had opposed the application when it was first made 10 years ago, and so its current argument is not motivated by any opposition to President Donald Trump, who often visits the club when he comes to New Jersey.
Marc Brooks, the authority’s executive director, said he didn’t know of any case when it denied an application for a water-purchase agreement.
In the Raritan Basin system, the authority has 30 contracts for public water supply and other miscellaneous users, 11 of which are golf courses, it said.
Club official says the water is essential
David Schutzenhofer, the club’s general manager, told the hearing that the continued water supply is essential to the club’s operation, and that without it, it would be forced to close.
He argued that the club in Somerset County generates millions of dollars for New Jersey’s economy, has improved the environment by measures such as removing leaking septic tanks and planting native species, and provided public access to the 500-acre site via about eight miles of walking trails.
Schutzenhofer said the club employs 300 people and pays $1.85 million a year in payroll, real estate and sales taxes. It is scheduled in 2022 to host the PGA championship which is expected to generate some $60 million for the local economy.
Among the environmental improvements during its 18-year history, the club converted farmland to golf course, ejecting cattle and horses, and reducing contaminated runoff from the site, he said.
“The transition from farming to golf course and grassland management has a positive impact, reducing sediment erosion into surrounding waterways,” he said.
The application meets a regulatory requirement of “public interest and necessity,” Schutzerhofer said.
But critics challenged the notion that a private golf course can be in the public interest.
“Frankly, it’s obscene that a golf course that charges hundreds of thousands of dollars for membership would pay a fraction of what people living in environmental justice communities or any neighboring communities pay for their water,” said Kibler.
Accused of ‘excessive’ water use
He called the club’s water use “excessive” and said it has made no significant attempt to conserve water over the years.
The club gets most of its water from wells, and they are contributing to the Raritan’s status as a “deficit watershed” in which during peak stress conditions like a drought there won’t be enough water to meet ecological and human needs, Kibler said.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said the club’s pumping of groundwater has already damaged wetlands near a specially protected category of streams called C1, and has polluted nearby waterways with runoff from pesticides, herbicides and fungicides used to maintain the course.
“There will be more environmental damage to the Highlands if these permits are granted,” Tittel said. “Critical streams that provide drinking water for millions of people will be impacted.”
The contract extension would also risk increased contamination with PFOA, a toxic “forever chemical” that has been found in groundwater at the club, most recently in March this year, argued George Cassa, a trustee of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition, an environmental group whose region includes Bedminster Township.
Although the chemical has been detected in water there during four sets of tests over the last two years, its levels have been within strict health limits recently set by the Department of Environmental Protection.
Still, there are fears that the evaporation of water used for the golf course could lead to an increasing concentration of the chemical, which is widespread in New Jersey and in the 1990s contaminated water for thousands of people in Parkersburg, West Virginia, where it had been discharged in wastewater from a DuPont plant.
“It would be prudent for NJWSA and DEP to at least consider the long-term consequences of re-cycling a contaminant that doesn’t disappear with normal environmental degradation mechanisms,” Cassa said.
The authority is expected to decide on the application at its next meeting in December.