Study could start talks on Hillsborough fertilizer ban

12/13/12 Janelle Irwin
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Thursday Hillsborough County Commissioners agreed to spend $25,000 more for a fertilizer study during their monthly meeting as the county’s Environmental Protection Commission. The findings could determine whether or not Hillsborough implements a fertilizer ordinance.

The money will come out of pollution recovery funds and is in addition to another $50,000 that has already been allocated to the study. According to Tom Ash, general manager for environmental monitoring for the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission, the $25,000 approved today will pay for a team of USF engineers to make sure the results are valid.

“At the end of the study – when all of the results are in and everything is done USF will do an additional level of peer review much like you would do for a scientific journal. They will review the data, they will review the design of the study and they – in essence – determine for us whether the study was effective and whether it answered the questions it was supposed to answer.”

The fertilizer study will use water quality data from counties where fertilizer ordinances are already in place. Pinellas bans both the sale and the application of nitrogen-based fertilizer during the rainy summer months. Manatee County only bans application and Hillsborough does neither.

“The idea of the study is to compare which version of those, if any, is most effective or are they virtually all the same? So, the hypothesis is – is there any difference in the long run nutrient loading wise, is there any difference between the different ordinances?”

Different localities throughout the state have considered seasonal bans on nitrogen-based fertilizers because they contribute to nutrient pollution, which leads to algae blooms. Using fertilizer during rainy months causes runoff that makes its way into waterways. Tampa City Council members approved a citywide ban last summer to help reduce nutrient runoff into the Hillsborough River, which feeds into Tampa Bay. But Ash said those results won’t be used in this study.

“They are plugged in with all the other counties and of course they have a version very similar to Pinellas County, but the – having them involved in the study since they got to the party a little late – they won’t be considered in that.”

The stakes are high for Hillsborough County.

“Hillsborough also has the Palm River, Tampa Bypass Canal, the Alafia River, the Little Manatee River and a few extra hundred acres – Hillsborough County also has a lot of additional shoreline and tributaries that empty into the unincorporated parts of the county.”

Ash said the fertilizer study will give Hillsborough County officials scientific data that can be used to decide whether or not an ordinance is needed.

“Once the study is done, if the results say that yes there is a dramatic difference between counties based on the varying degrees of regulation, then we would, theoretically, our board would consider making it more stringent or less stringent or leaving it the same.”

Last month the Environmental Protection Agency approved a set of nutrient standards proposed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Richard Garrity, executive director of the Hillsborough Environmental Protection Commission said Hillsborough County is already ahead of the game in that regard.

“EPA, actually the last week or two, came out with their final standards and even though there’s some controversy regarding maybe 80% of the state, there is no controversy regarding Tampa Bay. EPA approved the numeric nutrient standards that we proposed as part of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program scientific study. DEP has already approved it. So, this is one of the first waterways in the state and perhaps the nation to have this type of a concept where the actual numeric criteria have been proposed by the local area itself.”

The funds allocated today will be used for a peer review of the fertilizer study being conducted by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. That $50,000 study has already been paid for using funds from pollution recovery. The study is expected to be completed by the end of next year.

Other topics covered during the Hillsborough County Commission's EPC meeting.

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