Effort to contain polluting nitrogen run-off on tap in March

Published on: February 16, 2010



Nitrogen, one of the big three in fertilizers that keep South County lawns green and growing, also is “a pollutant of concern” threatening marine life in its waterways.
For this reason, Hillsborough County officials, along with governmental agencies in other Florida counties, now are working on a little-known, new rule that could impact residents, lawn care operators and fertilizer retailers as it seeks to control nitrogen-rich run-off into rivers and bays.

Three public workshops to work out the language and details in a draft rule governing fertilizer applications in both the unincorporated county and its three municipalities have been scheduled during March by Hillsborough’s Environmental Protection Commission (EPC). The first two are slated for 2 p.m. on Tuesday, March 2, and again at 6 p.m. that Tuesday. The former to be conducted at the Children’s Board offices in Tampa and the latter at EPC offices on Queen Palm Avenue in Sabal Park, immediately west of Falkenburg Road. A third workshop is set for 6 p.m., Wednesday, March 31, in the EPC offices. The proposed regulation is titled EPC Rule Chapter 1-15 and, as currently drafted, closely resembles a model developed by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, adopted by its board in November, 2008. The EPC rule draft also is similar to one adopted in Central Florida’s Orange County.

The local regulation, as it presently stands, endeavors to confine and keep fertilizers rich in nitrogen from flowing as part of stormwater run-off into such water bodies as South Hillsborough’s Little Manatee River and Alafia River, along with similar waterways in the county, according to information in a public presentation by Dr. Richard Garrity, EPC executive director.
High levels of nitrogen in rivers, lakes and bays decrease oxygen, cloud water clarity and encourage algae blooms, all of which adversely affect marine life and the sea grasses which serve as nurseries for young fish.
In general, the proposed EPC rule establishes multiple means of achieving the objective. Its basic concepts involve setting fertilizer-free zones near water, prohibiting sweeping or leaving fertilized lawn clippings on impervious surfaces, guiding specific applications rates as well as summer sales of nitrogen-containing fertilizers, plus calling for training and testing of persons commercially engaged in applying fertilizers. The draft also references enforcement mechanisms.

In the proposed rule, certification of commercial fertilizer application operators will be required by January, 2014.
The proposed regulation also exempts agricultural and golf course operations. It is estimated that area homeowners use six times more fertilizer than do the farmers, Garrity states.
The impetus to create and adopt a nitrogen run-off rule in Hillsborough County stems from Senate Bill 494 approved at the state level in June, 2009, which became statutory law in July, 2009. The statute requires Florida’s local governments with “nutrient-impaired waters” to draft and adopt regulations addressing that condition of their waterways. Hillsborough is among the jurisdictions in the state with nitrogen-impacted waterways, Garrity notes.
What’s more, it is considerably more cost efficient to keep the nitrogen pollutant out of the water, compared with the costs of removing the pollutant, Garrity asserts. A 50 percent compliance with the rule adopted by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program board, for example, could save Hillsborough County taxpayers remediation expenditures calculated as high as $6 million, he adds.
For each of the public workshops, a minimum of two hours has been allotted and review of the model regulations on which the proposed Hillsborough rule is patterned as well as opportunity for questions and answers are included in the format.
Copyright 2010 Melody Jameson