Environmental groups want local fertilizer limits upheld

01/23/12 Janelle Irwin
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Lawn care giants like Scotts and TrueGreen Chem Lawn are pushing a bill in the Florida House that would overturn summer bans on the use of nitrogen on lawns during the rainy summer months. At a press conference this afternoon in Clearwater, representatives from environmental groups and some local officials are asking the state legislature to deny that bill.

The city of Tampa, Pinellas County and the city of St. Petersburg have all passed ordinances that prevent the use of chemicals containing nitrogen during the summer. But now a proposed state law could make those bans moot. Frank Jackalone of the Sierra Club says using nitrogen at certain times is harmful to waterways.

“You can’t use nitrogen and phosphorous on your lawn during the summer months when we have a very rainy season and those fertilizers would wash off into our waterways and make them toxic; producing red tides and other green slime that can be harmful to animals and people.”

Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala says the ordinances are needed to protect the area’s water and also to save taxpayers money.

“We are literally spending tens of millions of dollars a year in Pinellas County cleaning up the waterways. We have to abide by EPA standards. Of course we do that. Next year we have to clean up those waterways again and a year after that. As long as this cycle keeps repeating itself, the taxpayers will continue to pay.”

She added, city and county governments know how to handle water policy like this one better than statewide entities.

“We believe, very strongly, that it is the right of local governments to make these decisions. The fertilizers that are harmful in this area may not be harmful in other parts of the states. It’s our decision locally, should be our decision locally, to determine what is in the best interest of keeping our waterways clean and protecting the taxpayers from having to pay repeatedly for the same things.”

TrueGreen Chem Lawn has been the loudest proponent of the bill. But Tampa Bay Estuary outreach coordinator Nanette O’Hara says they don’t need legislation to overturn local ordinances to protect their profits.

“They can still do a service in the summer-time. They can apply iron; they also apply their pesticide or herbicide so they don’t have to lose money those four months.”

O’Hara also points out many people already avoid using lawn fertilizers containing nitrogen during rainy months. She said continuing to educate the public could make a difference.

“In this campaign, we’re trying to show people that you don’t need to put nitrogen on your lawn in the summer-time to have a healthy landscape. There are alternatives. One those people can use is Iron in the summer. You know, everyone thinks green is beautiful. They want a lush green lawn. Iron will give you green without growth so it means you’ll have a green lawn, but you may not have to mow it as often.”

Cathy Harrelson, coordinator for the Gulf Restoration Network said since passing local bans on fertilizers, Florida based businesses have gotten a sales boost in some home improvement stores.

“In January in 2010 in Pinellas County before the rainy season nitrogen ban was adopted, only 2% of lawn fertilizers were Florida based company products at a local Home Depot. A year later, after the Pinellas ordinance was implemented, over 70% of lawn fertilizers were Florida based companies in that same Home Depot. These are Florida companies who are doing the right thing for Florida. The jobs are in Florida, the money stays in Florida. It’s exactly what we need to be doing to protect our jobs here and also protect our waterway.”

Harrelson said this legislative session seems to have waged war on Florida’s water supply. Another bill moving its way through the state legislature would shift control of reclaimed water away from water management districts and into the hands of localities. Opponents of that legislation worry it would privatize and make a commodity of reclaimed water.

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