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New coalition sets sights on patchwork fertilizer ordinances

Conflicting ordinances lead to trouble, group says.

A new coalition says Florida’s varying local fertilizer ordinances bear some blame for recent water woes.

Floridians for Water Quality Protection launched Tuesday with a volley of statements from environmental and agricultural experts, all of whom contend fertilizer regulations aren’t effective at the local level.

“The State of Florida essentially has 410 cities with their own rules and regulations or nothing at all when it comes to local fertilizer ordinances,” said Eric A. Brown, Ph.D., director of agronomy of Massey Services.

“This has essentially created a conflicting — and sometimes very confusing — patchwork of local fertilizer ordinances that are not based on science and are doing more harm than good when it comes to our water quality.”

While conflicting ordinances do their share of harm, the group says, the negatives are compounded by a lack of enforcement and, in some cases, ignorance of for the facts.

“In many places, the county may have completely different rules than what’s in the city or vice versa, revealing the abject failure of local control to meaningfully address this issue, however well-intended,” said Mac Carraway, executive director of the Environmental Research and Education Foundation.

“These ordinances simply ignore the established peer-reviewed findings that healthy lawns and landscapes contribute little if anything to runoff.”

Floridians for Water Quality Protection qualified the statement by pointing to state agencies and the University of Florida’s Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences, which have railed against local fertilizer ordinances for not addressing excess nutrients entering Florida waters through septic tanks and degraded sewer and stormwater infrastructure.

“Many of these local ordinances appear to have been designed by people who don’t care about protecting Florida’s water quality,” said Stuart Z. Cohen, Ph.D., CGWP, president of Environmental & Turf Services, Inc. (Maryland), and a former employee of the U.S.  Environmental Protection Agency.

“Why does this matter? It matters because healthy lawns and landscapes act as some of the most efficient and effective filters on the planet and support the well-being of the environment.”

The new group is proposing the Legislature step in and institute uniform statewide regulations. As a proof of concept, Floridians for Water Quality Protection highlighted cities and counties surrounding the Indian River Lagoon, which have largely uniform rules.’

Since getting on the same page, water quality has improved.

A statewide ruleset is also commonplace outside of the Sunshine State, the group said.

“Thirty states now have developed one state standard or preemption on fertilizer, and it is time Florida joins them,” Carraway said.

“We need the leadership of our state lawmakers on this issue. These conflicting fertilizer ordinances that are not based on science, some of which have been in place for ten years, are inherently misleading and have given trusting Floridians false hope, and have accomplished nothing.”

Floridians for Water Quality Protection’s push includes a website where supporters can fill out a form to contact their representatives in the Legislature and ask them get on board with the plan.

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