Creating a harmonious relationship between a residential golf community and a nearby spring is a challenge. One developer faced up to the challenge to demonstrate that development can coexist with springs protection.
Developing a Spring-Friendly Community
By Peter Lane Taylor
An afternoon walk around the grounds and cul-de-sacs of the Villages of Rainbow Springs golf development is like something out of a brochure. Along dozens of winding streets, residents tend their gardens in the warm, afternoon sunshine, couples walk peacefully under the open shade of hammock trees, and in the distance, sprinklers water a lush patchwork of open fairways and well-manicured greens. It's a scene of tranquility, contentment, and for those who have chosen Florida as the place to live out their retirement years, total lifestyle perfection.
Yet, with a closer look, it becomes obvious that there's something less than perfect going on here as far as the health of the aquifer is concerned. From the edge of the water of Rainbow Springs itself, in the State Park of the same name, I can hear the sounds of earth moving through a screen of ancient pines, evidence of yet another sub-division under construction. The Villages of Rainbow Springs newest community of 500 homes is going up little more than 400 yards from the Rainbow's head spring.
Development in areas once dominated by rural industries means deforestation, habitat fragmentation, and the construction of roads, home sites, and golf courses, all of which have a significant impact of the recharge basins of many springs. New developments also mean a new influx of people who bring with them demands for water, recreation, shopping malls, sewage treatment, and gardens requiring frequent applications of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
The developers of The Villages of Rainbow Springs are trying to do things differently to protect for the long-term the natural resource that has drawn people here in the first place.
The developers of The Village of Rainbow Springs, however, are trying to do things differently to protect for the long-term the natural resource that have drawn people here in the first place. According to Tim Collins, The Villages of Rainbow Springs strives for harmony, not only in terms of the residential atmosphere it creates for its residents, but more importantly, in its relationship with nearby Rainbow Springs and its spring-fed river. Collins sees the proximity of the spring as much more than just an economic asset distinguishing The Villages of Rainbow Springs from other developments. He sees it as a non-negotiable asset, and through the example he's setting by reducing the impacts of his own communities, he hopes to inspire other developers to do the same.
By far the most revolutionary thing Collins and his colleagues have done to help protect Rainbow Springs is to limit development in the first place, that might not be an option for developers with eye on the bottom line only. In a 530-acre development parcel known as the Tiffany Tract which directly abuts the State Park, Collins has placed 130 off limits altogether, leaving native forest and soils intact where they are most needed. This natural buffer will not only help reduce the development's direct impacts on water quality and wildlife, but also provide its residents with a place to appreciate and learn more about the rare springs environment.
The community has also reduced its impacts on the spring ecosystem in less visible ways, most notably in the development and maintenance of a new golf course.
"The state didn't want that golf course," Collins tells me flatly. "So it was up to us to demonstrate that we could reduce the impacts of irrigation and fertilization."
To do that, Collins and his colleagues worked with government scientists for over a year crunching massive amounts of fertilization and irrigation data from other golf courses to determine how they could reduce stormwater runoff, nutrient loading, and water demands. The result today is one of the most spring-friendly golf courses in the state. The community's new golf course will boast Bahia grass which requires less irrigation and fewer applications of fertilizer, trees where there would otherwise be water-hungry grass, and a runoff retention system that minimizes the direct infiltration of tainted water into the aquifer.
"What we've shown in the process," Collins adds, "is that golf courses don't have to have a significant impact on the springs-and more importantly, that we can provide our residents with the amenities they want without threatening the water quality."