Country Club struggles to fill barren lake

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 22, 2004

It’s not exactly the most menacing threat a golfer has ever faced. For that matter, a daring middle-school boy can strap up a pair of rubber boots and collect enough golf balls to play through mid-summer.

Not so long ago, the lake at Demopolis Country Club’s golf course struck fear into golfers who duffed tee shots on No. 10, thinned approaches to No. 11 or snap-hooked drives off No. 17 tee.

Today, the lake looks more like the 1972 image of Alan Shepard taking a swing on the moon.

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Jack Cooley and Chuck Smith, two members of the country club’s board, helped make a decision last year to drain the lake and fix five leaks in the dam. If Mother Nature cooperated, digging the lake in the winter would have allowed spring rains to refill the water supply.

“I didn’t know we were going to have the worst drought we’ve had since 1908,” said Smith, who will become president of the club when Cooley’s tenure ends in five months.

Besides the aesthetic challenges created from dry weather, the golf course has survived only from the help of friendly neighbors — most of them members — who run extended hoses to the greens to keep them alive. Normally, a full lake would provide enough water to soak the course.

“In a lot of ways, we’re not too long from losing those greens,” Cooley said.

With summer fast approaching, Smith and Cooley have sought the help of Bob Evans, an engineer with Almon&Associates in Tuscaloosa. And earlier this month, Smith and Evans made a pitch to the Demopolis Utility Board asking for permission to drill a well at the course.

Though the thought sounds simple, it’s really not. For starters, the city of Demopolis has an ordinance that requires well-drillers to obtain permission from the city. And in most cases, the city uses extreme caution in granting permission.

“One of the things we have to be careful about is contamination,” Mayor Austin Caldwell said. “A well goes into the same aquifer that we use for city water.”

The fear of contamination is created from the large amounts of fertilizer and pesticides used on a golf course.

Earlier this month, Smith and Evans approached the utility board and received permission to drill the well. However, the instructions from the board brought concern to the Country Club.

“There are some limitations on it,” Smith said. “Once we got the lake filled, a lock would be placed on the well.”

Though Smith did not discuss all the points of disagreement between the board and the country club, he and Cooley indicated they are not yet ready to seek the Demopolis City Council’s approval to begin drilling. After getting the utility board’s permission, the Country Club would need final approval from the City Council.

While drilling a well is one option, Cooley and Caldwell said there has been discussion of the Country Club purchasing the water from the city of Demopolis. Though exact figures were not available, Cooley said it would take around 7 million gallons to fill the lake.

“We’ve given them a price of $1,400 for every million gallons,” Caldwell said.

If the lake is 7 million gallons, it would cost the Country Club almost $10,000 to fill the golf course’s water supply. Meanwhile, the cost of drilling a well, according to Smith, also falls in the range of $10,000-$15,000.

The simple solution would be to skip the well and purchase the water from the city. With similar prices, filling the lake would create a self-sustaining water supply that likely would not require a well. But there aren’t many issues of the dry lake that work out in a simple manner.

If the Country Club wanted to purchase 7 million gallons of water from the city tomorrow, they couldn’t do it.

“We don’t have that much water,” Caldwell said.

In reality, the city probably could find the 7 million gallons. The only problem would be the thousands of Demopolis citizens who screamed that afternoon when the shower, toilet, dishwasher and washing machine didn’t work.

While Cooley and Smith have suggested a keen interest in drilling a well, Smith said there’s an even better option.

“If things worked out right, we wouldn’t buy the water and we wouldn’t drill a well,” he said. “We’d let Mother Nature fill it up for us.”