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Ban on nitrogen, phosphorous fertilizers in effect

By Staff | Jun 23, 2020


With the arrival of rainy season comes a blackout period for certain fertilizers on Captiva.

From June 1 through Sept. 30, a Lee County ordinance prohibits the use of fertilizers containing nitrogen or phosphorous, along with additional guidelines, to prevent excess nutrients from entering waterways. Nutrients fuel algae and high enough levels can lead to blooms like blue-green algae.

“We have a problem with nutrients in our waters. Predominately for a brackish estuary, like we are in, nitrogen is the biggest problem,” Kurt Harclerode, operations manager for the county’s Division of Natural Resources, said. “For an island, the community is so close to the Gulf and other waterways, it’s critical to not over-fertilize and not add to the other nutrients that may already be there in our waterways.”

He explained that nitrogen and phosphorous exist on their own and that it not a bad thing.

“But if you have too much nitrogen or phosphorous, it can lead to over-nutrification of our waterways,” Harclerode said. “We always have algae in our waterways – we don’t always have (algae) booms.”

He noted that algae sucks up oxygen in the water, which can result in fish kills, and some types of blooms are toxic to pets and even harmful to humans; all witnessed only a few years ago when a blue-green outbreak – combined with red tide – devastated local marine life and the coastal economy.

“It’s something we’re trying to eliminate by doing a host of things,” Harclerode said of the excess nutrients, explaining that the objective is not only to maintain water quality, but to improve it.

The county ordinance goes into effect from June through September for a specific reason.

“During the wet season – we get so much rain,” he said, explaining what happens if a lawn is fertilized with a brand containing nitrogen or phosphorous in the morning, then the usual afternoon rains follow. “That fertilizer is just not going to make it into the root zone. It just washes away.”

To abide by the ordinance, the first step is eliminating the use of nitrogen or phosphorous.

“That way we’re not having those nutrients run off a landscape and into our waterways,” Harclerode said. “That can add to nutrients that are already there and can elaborate an algae bloom or create another problem.”

Some additional guidelines outlined under the ordinance include that fertilizer may not be applied within 10 feet of a water body, seawall or wetland, and that spreader deflector shields are required on spreaders to prevent fertilizer from being spread into water body buffers and impervious surfaces.

“We have a lot of people living on waterways,” he said. “We have specific setbacks.”

The rules are not only aimed at homeowners. The ordinance dictates that professional landscapers must register with the county and have at least one employee certified after completing a training program.

“If they do have a lawn service, I would make sure they have a posted decal on their vehicle, which will indicate that they’ve gone through the best management practices program,” Harclerode said.

While fertilizers containing nitrogen or phosphorous are prohibited during the blackout period, there are alternative choices – typically, labeled as a “summer blend” – available for people to use.

“There are formulas you can use during the summertime,” he said.

Another method is putting down a slow-release fertilizer prior to the start of season.

“You should have enough (nutrients) then, so you don’t have to put down fertilizer during the rainy season,” he said. “You do want to keep a healthy lawn because it helps with erosion purposes.”

The county started work on its ordinance in 2007, implementing it a few years later.

“Lee County is one of the leading counties in the state in doing this type of source control program,” Harclerode said. “We can look at what we are contributing as individuals to our own landscape.”

As part of the program, the county also focuses on public outreach.

“Linking between daily activities with fertilizer and what could happen with our waterways,” he said.

For additional information, visit Fertilize Smart at fertilizesmart.com.