Florida’s waterways are in peril. Increasing death rates of bottle-nose dolphins and diminishing populations of marine life are observable evidence that we are polluting our waters. If we don’t take action, the waters will “die” and become algae soups, producing no marine animals and exuding toxic fumes, such as Red Tide, harmful to people. This already has happened in some of our lakes and streams and Tampa Bay came close.
A major source of this pollution is the nutrients found in fertilizer- phosphorus and nitrogen. We Floridians are known to over fertilize and use too much of these nutrients. The excess runs off and ends up in our surface waters. Both phosphorus and nitrogen produce algae, one pound of fertilizer can produce 500 pounds of the stuff. The algae cloud the water and restrict sunlight from reaching the sea grasses. Sea grass is the foundation of most marine life, the nursery and habitat for nearly every living creature. As the sea grass dies off from lack of sunlight, the wild life follows. Algae also consume dissolved oxygen, robbing the marine animals of this essential element. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) found, in 2008, that 1000 miles of rivers, 350,000 acres of lakes and 900 square miles of estuaries are nutrient polluted. Our waters are receiving at least 50% more nutrients than they can safely absorb.
The good news is that, by managing our use of fertilizer, we can reduce the nutrient pollution by as much as 30% and have healthier lawns in the bargain. Fact is, most Florida soil is naturally rich in phosphorus and adding more is harmful to lawn health as well as running off to pollute the water. Fertilizer containing water soluble nitrogen tends to run off at the first rainfall or irrigation and is wasted. Slow release nitrogen, however, will feed the grass at a rate that it can absorb while minimizing run off. Fertilize properly using the right fertilizer, zero phosphorus and slow release nitrogen, and doing it at the right time is about all it takes.
You might think this no cost measure to help save Florida’s multi-billion dollar marine industry is a no brainer. Think again. The Florida DEP published an ordinance to manage the use of fertilizer state wide. Good idea, but lobbying and pressure from fertilizer interests so weakened the ordinance that it is ineffective in reducing nutrient pollution.
Over 40 local Florida governments have enacted ordinances that are stronger than the state version. The reported results of these ordinances have been positive in every aspect and the stronger ordinance is being considered by many other locals. But hold on, bills are now working in both the Florida House and Senate to change the state fertilizer laws so that local governments cannot enact tougher fertilizer requirements and will even void some local ordinances already in effect. If passed, to accommodate special interests, these bad bills will allow nutrient pollution to continue to degrade our waters and could result in costs of billions of dollars to clean up our waters in addition to the loss of billions by our marine economy. Tell your state representatives to oppose these bills and tell your local government leaders to enact the stronger fertilizer ordinance. Please do it now.
David Botto, former chairman of Florida’s Marine Resources Council