Hillsborough Environmental Protection Commission considers fertilizer ordinance

01/15/09 Seán Kinane
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The Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission, or EPC, voted unanimously today to hold public workshops on whether to limit the amount of nitrogen fertilizer applied to the lawns of county residents.

WMNF’s Seán Kinane has more.

Tampa Bay and most of the region’s waterways are loaded with nutrients, especially nitrogen, causing algae blooms which in turn cause a decline in seagrass cover due to reduced light penetration.

Scott Emery, an environmental consultant for Hillsborough County, told the EPC that it is costly to remove nutrients from the water but it is required by the Federal Clean Water Act to reduce nutrient levels to their Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL.

The cost of the seven capital projects currently under construction by the county to reduce nutrient levels in the water is 10 million dollars, Emery said. A more cost-effective way to reduce the TMDL is to not put the nutrients in the water in the first place, for example by reducing lawn fertilization. Because of that, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program crafted a model fertilizer ordinance last October that would restrict residents from using nitrogen fertilizers on lawns during the summer rainy season. It was based on multiple workshops including scientists and other members of the public.

On Thursday, the EPC heard public comment from 8 people who supported a model ordinance as strong as or stronger than the Estuary Program’s, while 4 supported a weaker ordinance or none at all, including Howard Stepleman, a regional manger for Massey Services.

Sarasota County has already implemented a successful fertilizer ordinance. Their former extension director, Michael Holsinger, told the EPC that he supports an ordinance that is even stricter than the model put forward by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

In 2007 the Legislature formed the Florida Consumer Fertilizer Task Force which issued its final report last January. It recommended that a state model ordinance be created. Local governments could enact stricter ordinances if they had waters that were considered polluted with nutrients. The waterways that feed into Tampa Bay are polluted, EPC director Rick Garrity said, which is why the Tampa Bay Estuary Program crafted the model ordinance for the region.

Two researchers from the University of Florida, who unsuccessfully lobbied the Tampa Bay Estuary Program to weaken their model ordinance, were invited to speak to the EPC. Terril Nell, chair of the UF Environmental Horticulture Department, said there were many things about the Tampa Bay Estuary Program’s model fertilizer ordinance that his research supports.

Nell’s presentation seemed to catch EPC board member and Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman off guard. He seemed to have expected the UF researchers to be more critical of the fertilizer ordinance, and questioned Nell’s colleague George Hochmuth.

Hochmuth, who is Associate Dean of Research at UF’s IFAS Agricultural Experiment Station, said he disagreed with the Estuary Program’s model ordinance’s restriction on applying nitrogen during the rainy season. Hochmuth said that in that case more nitrogen might end up in the Bay because people will over-fertilize in the spring and fall, when lawns wouldn’t be able to handle the excess.

The next EPC meeting is February 19th at 9 am at the County Center in downtown Tampa.

Previous WMNF coverage of EPC discussion of fertilizer ordinance

Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County

Tampa Bay Estuary Program

Links to materials presented at the Jan 15 EPC meeting

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