Friday, December 19, 2008

Am I missing something on this phosphorus issue?

Having lived literally within sight of the Great Lakes almost all of my life, I’ve seen what pollution can do to a body of water, especially Lake Erie, which now supplies my drinking and washing water, and provides me, my family and friends with excellent recreational opportunities.


I saw the lake covered with algae during the summers of the 1960s, and witnessed the decline of the sports fishing industry through 1970s. About that time the federal and state governments began taking serious action to reverse (slow is a more accurate word) the Lake’s decline. They forced communities within the Great Lakes watershed to upgrade their sewage treatment plants and they mandated the removal of phosphorus from laundry detergents, inasmuch as phosphorus promotes the growth of algae. This brings me closer to the point I want to make. And to a question for anyone reading this blog.

Why are some people in the lawn care business so opposed to legislation aimed at restricting the use of lawn fertilizers containing phosphorus near streams, lakes and bays, especially when the legislation, on the surface, seems reasonable?


Let’s take a look at recent legislation in Annapolis, MD. That city regulates the use and sale of fertilizing containing phosphorus to limit runoff into the Chesapeake Bay. The law applies to home lawns, parks, cemeteries and golf courses. It also forbids the application of lawn fertilizer when the ground is frozen or where it will run onto any impervious surface, such as parking lots, sidewalks and roadways, and not be collected or applied to the turfgrass.

That said, there are exceptions that allow the use of phosphorus-containing fertilizers:

— on turf or lawn areas where soil tests performed within the last three years confirm that the phosphorus levels are deficient
— on newly established turf or lawn areas during their first growing season.
— on gardens, including vegetable and flower, trees, shrubs, and indoor applications, including green houses.
— on yard waste compost or other similar materials that are primarily organic in nature and are applied to improve the physical condition of the soil


Lake Erie improved dramatically through the 1980s and 1990s because of the above-mentioned actions (and others). The recreational boating and sport fishing industries boomed as a result. Unfortunately, researchers and other knowledgeable experts are telling me the Lake is going back the other direction again.

I don’t know how large a role that lawn fertilizers are having on the quality of Lake Erie, not a clue. But it seems to me that limiting the use of phosphorus-containing fertilizers on soils that are tested and already have sufficient phosphorus for plant health is reasonable and I don't see any reason to kick about it.

Now my question — Am I missing a key element of this issue, the reason why lawn care applicators sometimes oppose this type of legislation? — Ron Hall

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