Water-Related News

To protect water quality, abandon lush lawns

Column by Tom Palmer, The Ledger

I wrote recently about some of the natural signs of the start of summer.

Let me talk about one sign that humans cause.

That is the increase in algae blooms on some water bodies because of a combination of nutrient pollution from human activities and warmer weather, which combine to create optimum conditions for algae growth.

Polk usually doesn’t experience anything as dramatic as the algae blooms recorded in the St. Lucie Inlet as a result of discharges from Lake Okeechobee, but the simple biological fact is that better-fed organisms will thrive.

For plants, nitrogen and phosphorous serve that purpose.

This is the time of the year when ordinances in many Florida counties go into force that ban the summertime use of fertilizers containing phosphorous and nitrogen on lawns. Polk is not among them.

The idea began in 2007 when St. Petersburg officials passed the first Florida ordinance restricting summertime lawn fertilizer applications in an attempt to deal with widespread pollution at a community level.

The idea behind it is simple. Commercial fertilizers contain phosphorous and nitrogen. Summer is the rainy season. Rains increase fertilizer runoff from yards into storm drains. Water in storm drains ends up in water bodies.

Florida water bodies have been declining because they are already overpolluted with phosphorous and nitrogen. Adding more phosphorous and nitrogen will cause further damage.

Most of the cities and counties that have enacted seasonal fertilizer bans lie in coastal areas where the cumulative impact of upstream fertilizer runoff is the greatest.

Polk enacted a weak fertilizer ordinance in 2013. It contains no seasonal restrictions, relying instead only on the existence of weather alerts for thunderstorms, floods or tropical storms.