Despite Claims, Polk’s Fertilizer Ordinance Falls Short

Following a presentation by Dave Carter, chair of Polk County’s Stormwater Technical Advisory Committee, at the Aug. 2 County Commission meeting, Commissioner Bill Braswell asked whether Polk County had looked at fertilizer application limits to prevent pollution.

Braswell has an extensive background in agriculture and said many fellow farmers are reducing fertilizer use because it is unnecessary.

Natural Resources staff said Polk has a fertilizer ordinance, but probably could improve outreach to let the public know how to avoid causing pollution.

As it turns out, that’s not the whole story.

Many Florida counties have strict fertilizer ordinances that prohibit spreading fertilizer on lawns from June to September, which is peninsular Florida’s typical rainy season..

Polk County’s fertilizer ordinance is weaker.

The only outright prohibition involves applying fertilizer within 10 feet of a water body or wetland area.

Instead of a summer rainy season ban, Polk’s ordinance reads:

No fertilizer containing nitrogen or phosphorus shall be applied to urban landscapes during a period for which the National Weather Service has issued any of the following advisories for any portion of Polk County: a severe thunderstorm warning or watch, flood warning or watch, tropical storm warning or watch, hurricane warning or watch, or heavy rain is likely to exceed two (2) inches in a twenty-four-hour period.

You get the picture.

The reason behind tougher fertilizer restrictions, which were fought by commercial interests who have a financial interest in selling homeowners high-input lawn care, is to reduce the amount of phosphorous and nitrogen that will run off the land and end up in the nearest water body. Those nutrients feed algae growth that reduces water clarity and can sometimes cause fish kills if the water body is badly polluted

This is an important point because as Carter’s presentation to the commission made clear, it will cost tens of millions of dollars to fix the past pollution problems to some extent by removing phosphorous and nitrogen contaminated sediments, designing wetlands treatment areas to remove pollutants before they reach lakes and rivers and do a better job of collecting tons of these and other pollutants through such programs as aggressive street sweeping before they reach water bodies.

The one thing everyone agrees on is preventing pollution in the first place is far cheaper for taxpayers than trying to fix the damage—if it is even technically or financially feasible to do so in the first place.

The challenge for Polk County to strengthen is fertilizer ordinance is that state law was amended in response to the local summer fertilizer bans (and lobbying from the turf industry and their allies) that require any county that wants to go beyond milquetoast state model ordinance to conduct a whole bunch of expensive scientific studies to prove to the satisfaction of the people who oppose fertilizer bans that the tougher restrictions are necessary.

That underscores why public outreach may be a more cost-effective approach, though the challenge is similar to the challenges to educate the people about smart lawn irrigation techniques.

I was thinking about that as I drove by a lakefront home in my neighborhood where the sprinklers were going full blast despite the lawn’s having received 2 inches of rain the night before and despite the fact that modern irrigation systems are supposed to have rain sensors to prevent such waste.

I have no idea how much fertilizer washed into the lake.



Posted in Group Conservation Issues.