Fertilizer ordinance approved in bid to protect near shore waters

Phosphorus Fertilizer

There’s such a thing as too much of a good thing, especially when it comes to the harmful effects associated with excess nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, entering the waters.

Islamorada Village council members unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance to amend land development regulations related to fertilizer application standards during the Aug. 29 meeting at Founders Park Community Center. The ordinance restricts the application of fertilizer containing nitrogen and phosphorus during the summer/rainy months of June to September annually.

Fertilizer can’t be applied within 15 feet of any canal, shoreline or wetland. However, newly planted turf or landscape plants can be fertilized in the zone for 60 days beginning 30 days after planting, should there be a need to help establish the plant.

Application is also prohibited during major storms and floods.

In addition, grass clippings and vegetation debris can’t be washed, swept or blown into storm drains, ditches, roads or canals. Any material accidentally deposited would need to be removed immediately to the maximum extent practicable.

“We had a discussion a couple years ago about blowing stuff into canals. We got it finally. It’s taken a while but we got there,” said Mayor Deb Gillis.

Discussion over fertilizer application regulations started following an April meeting when staff was directed to work with the South Florida Environmental Group, Miami Waterkeeper. At the time, general counsel for Waterkeeper, Kelly Cox, briefly spoke on the fertilizer problem and how excess nutrients from applications harm waters and bring algal blooms.

Coming before the dais to explain the proposed ordinance, Cox said it’s an easy one to abide by and a cost saving for landscape companies. Cox said Miami Waterkeeper takes complex scientific data to propose best management practices to the community through education and outreach.

“We’re not Miami. We’re certainly not industrialized, but we have dozens of canals and basins that can be impacted by nutrient pollution,” Cox said. “The (Florida) Bay is experiencing threats from nutrients already. We need to be concentrating on what we can do as a village and a community to set the gold standard for water quality here.”

Cox said the ordinance ensures the right type of fertilizer mix is used.

“We have specific limits for nitrogen and zero tolerance for phosphorus,” she said. “Our soils here in South Florida are phosphorus rich and many plants don’t need phosphorus. All that excess runs into the nearest waterway, which is problematic for the health of the ecosystem.”

Islamorada’s ordinance on fertilizer application is similar to others approved throughout the state. Application standards approved by council received praise from Capt. Steve Friedman, commodore of the Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association. Cox read a letter of support from Friedman to the dais.

“As you’re aware, the Florida Keys culture and economy relies on clean water and a healthy ecosystem,” Friedman stated. “The Florida Bay has been in danger of catastrophic collapse for many years due to pollution from a variety of sources, including excess nutrients. I’m encouraged to see the village of Islamorada take a proactive first step to addressing nutrients pollution in Monroe County.”

Once approval is garnered on the second reading, Vice Mayor Mike Forster said he’d like to send a letter to sister cities, incorporated and unincorporated Monroe County to join in on the effort.

Gillis acknowledged that outreach and education should be a priority to ensure everyone understands. Cox said outreach can be provided through the village’s website and social media to reach community members.

“This isn’t an attack on landscapers or residents with lush green lawns. It’s just an effort to improve our near shore water quality in our village,” Cox said.

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