Orlando, Fla.—Do fertilizer bans protect water quality?
There are multiple sources of nutrients in Florida's water bodies. UF/IFAS research using stable isotope source tracking methods has shown that in addition to fertilizers, sources of nutrients in water bodies include atmospheric deposition, decaying plant material such as grass clippings left on streets, pet waste, sewage waste and leaky septic tanks, reclaimed water, and soil. It is important to note that nutrients are likely transported from landscapes to water bodies regardless of fertilizer use. However, fertilizers are indeed identified in UF/IFAS research as one source of nutrients in samples of stormwater, ponds, lakes, streams, springs, and coastal waters.
A study funded by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP) reported in 2015 that at least 7 years of monitoring would be necessary to observe any statistically significant effects of fertilizer bans on local water quality. Long-term monitoring efforts have not been initiated to compare water quality in residential areas with fertilizer bans versus those without the bans.
The same TBEP study observed evidence of nitrate from fertilizer sources in lawn soils of residential neighborhoods both with and without bans. Thus, even if fertilizers are not applied, fertilizer-derived nutrients may still reside in lawn soils and potentially become mobilized and transported to water bodies for some time after the last fertilizer application. In a separate UF/IFAS study by Lusk et al. (2018), fertilizer N applied to young St. Augustine grass during the summer rainy season was shown to accumulate in soil organic matter pools, with very little (less than 3%) leached from the soil during the season. While this fertilizer N may reside in the soil organic matter pool for years, it could potentially become mobilized at some future point, even in the absence of future fertilizer applications.
Meanwhile, in Orange County, as an example, there are rules to follow for residential and commercial use.
All areas of property covered by lawn, turf and landscape plants are subject to the fertilizer ordinance. Fertilizers containing phosphorus are prohibited unless soil test shows deficiency. Fertilizers containing nitrogen applied in Orange County must contain 50 percent slow release nitrogen, unless 65 percent slow-release is available.
Deflector shields must be in place when broadcast spreaders are used next to streets, inlets, ditches, conveyances and waterways.
No fertilizer or grass clippings shall be deposited on streets, driveways or in storm drains.
No fertilizer can be applied within 15 feet from waterways.
Application sites must maintain a 10-foot low maintenance zone – planted area with no fertilizing, mowing or maintenance – adjacent to water bodies.
No fertilizer shall be applied when the National Weather Service issues any advisory for severe thunderstorm, flood, tropical storm or hurricane.
For Commercial and Business Use Only
Commercial applicators must show proof of training by displaying decals on vehicles used during application.
Proof of training must be provided in order to obtain an Orange County local business tax certificate for businesses that provide landscape services.
Commercial applicators who need decals can contact EPD@ocfl.net with proof of training to have decals mailed to their business.
Retail businesses that sell fertilizer must post a notice provided by Orange County regarding the ordinance.
Retailers who need posters may download a digital poster or contact EPD@ocfl.net to have posters mailed to their business.
Golf courses, bona-fide agricultural operation and sports fields are exempt from the ordinance.
The consequences of noncompliance in residential areas are a written notice for the very first violation, fifty dollar fine on the second and one hundred dollar fine on the third.
For commercial properties use— however, the first violation will still be a written notice, but second and third violations increase to five hundred and seven hundred and fifty dollar fines.
Keep in mind that by doing something as simple as choosing fertilizer carefully and applying it properly, together we can make a big impact on the health of our natural water bodies helping prevent algae blooms and poor water quality.
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Yaralyn Diaz, CSR
Commercial Lines CSR