Hillsborough County Considers Fertilizer Ban

Tampa Bay Red Tide
Environmentalists blame fertilizer runoff for algae blooms in Tampa Bay, such as this one.
TAMPA (2009-12-09) -

Hillsborough County is considering summertime restrictions on fertilizer sales and use as part of an effort to curb algae blooms in area waterways.

Armed with pictures of algae blooms in Tampa Bay and the Alafia River, environmentalists and anglers pushed Hillsborough County Wednesday night to follow in the footsteps of Sarasota County, St. Petersburg and Pinellas County to restrict summertime use of nitrogen-based fertilizer.

The chemical has been blamed for causing explosive plant growth in local waterways - particularly in the summer, when heavy rains wash much of the fertilizer from lawns.

Hillsborough County Commissioners - meeting Wednesday as the Environmental Protection Commission - indicated they're willing to ban the sale of fertilizer in the summer months. That's when heavy rains can wash the nitrogen into waterways, causing algae blooms that lead to fish kills.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe echoed a majority of the board Wednesday.

“If it's a matter of yards or wildlife and fish, we've got to favor the side of the wildlife and the water,” Sharpe said.

Representatives of a nursery grower's organization countered that there is no scientific evidence that fertilizer running off into rivers and lakes has spurred the growth of algae blooms.

Erica Santella is Region Technical Manager for TruGreen-ChemLawn. She told board members there's no scientific evidence to support such a ban, or another move to mandate the use of slow-release fertilizer.

“We will continue to say that the science does not support the blackout, science does not support slow-release and there are not products that can be used as slow-release,” Santella said. “Those products do not exist.”

A new state law says that any county that has waterways affected by an overload of nutrients has to take measures to curb the runoff of fertilizer from lawns.

A summertime ban would not apply to farms or golf courses. Board members will draw up a proposed ordinance early next year.

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