SWFL fertilizer ordinances could loosen soon

Reporter: Elizabeth Biro Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

Every county in Southwest Florida, from Charlotte down to Collier, has some kind of fertilizer ordinance restricting its use for the sake of our water quality. But those rules could loosen soon.

We all want lush, green landscapes, achievable through smart planting, tedious tending and the occasional application of fertilizer. But, unfortunately, it feeds more than just your plants.

“They’ll also fertilize and feed algae in the water, so you’ll get blooms,” said Mike Parsons, a professor of marine science with The Water School at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Parsons says the connection between some fertilizers and harmful algal blooms, like red tide and blue-green algae, was made nearly two decades ago. Nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus can fuel these blooms. That knowledge fueled a fight for environmental leaders.

“It was a bit of a drawn-out battle, if you will, but everyone came on board when they saw the impacts that these nutrient enrichments were having on our local waters, and so it was an important victory,” Parsons said.

Matt DePaolis, environmental policy director at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, says that victory has held firm in Sanibel for years—the island has had fertilizer restrictions in place since 2007.

“We do have cleaner water than we would otherwise; we do have less pollution than we would otherwise,” DePaolis said.

If the proposed language becomes law, local governments could lose their ability to impose seasonal fertilizer bans.

“With a restriction like this coming into play, it really cuts down a local government’s ability to clean up their own water and protect themselves,” DePaolis said. “When we have that rainy season, we have so much water entering the system that a lot of it will just pick up those nutrients as… that rain falls on the freshly fertilized areas and carry those nutrients into our water bodies.”

Every Southwest Florida county has some kind of rainy season restriction because of the environmental consequences observed from fertilizer runoff. Experts feel taking those decisions out of local hands is a step back.

“Not every water body is the same; the soils aren’t the same, the fertilizer use isn’t the same,” Parsons said. “It really should be left up to individual municipalities to determine how they want the fertilizer ordinances to be implemented. All of these systems are interconnected, so if we’re having a drop of water falling north of the lake, that can very easily make its way through Lake Okeechobee and then be discharged out to the Caloosahatchee.”

Restrictions in our backyard don’t need to change for us to feel the consequences.

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