Experts say fertilizer's impact in Florida already known, but study clears state budget (2024)

Dozens of Florida organizations, businesses and communities were disappointed last week when Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the $116.5 billion state budget that included $250,000 for a study of seasonal fertilizer bans.

That's because while the study of the bans' effectiveness is being conducted by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, counties and cities are prohibited from creating new fertilizer bans or amending existing ones after July 1.

Leaders of 55 entities encouraged DeSantis to veto the appropriation as studies already have shown that engaging in seasonal fertilizer restrictions is the cheapest, easiest and best way to stop urban stormwater pollution at its source.

Experts say fertilizer's impact in Florida already known, but study clears state budget (1)

"It's astounding that, even as Lake Okeechobee is lit up with toxic algae, Florida lawmakers are passing legislation that will make it harder for local communities to limit phosphorus and nitrogen pollution that fuels toxic-algae blooms," Eve Samples, executive director of Friends of the Everglades, said the day the budget was signed. "It's yet another example of the disconnect between Tallahassee politicians and the environmental needs of Florida."

Experts say fertilizer's impact in Florida already known, but study clears state budget (2)

Counties and cities with existing fertilizer regulations, of which there are more than 100 in Florida ― including Volusia County and some of its cities ― will continue to follow what they currently have in place.

The regulations typically restrict the use of fertilizer containing nitrogen or phosphorus from June 1 through Sept. 30, Florida's rainy season.

Opponents: Provision undermines local efforts

Samples was one of the 55 leaders who put her name last month on a letter to DeSantis asking that he nix the fertilizer-related appropriation.

The instances when UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection have shied away from recommending against fertilizer use during the rainy season have "been tied to funding UF/IFAS receives from the turfgrass and agrichemical industries," the letter states.

Opponents of the appropriation called the move underhanded as it was tacked on the budget instead of going through the legislative process, which would've allowed for input from the public.

UF/IFAS will use the $250,000 in nonrecurring funds "to evaluate the effectiveness of the timing of seasonal fertilizer restrictions on urban landscapes toward achieving nutrient target objectives for waterbodies statewide," the budget's line item states in part.

Counties and cities will be blocked from introducing new fertilizer restrictions or amending existing ones to limit introducing variables during the UF/IFAS study, DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern said via email.

Refuse removed:How many tons of trash did volunteers pull from along St. Johns River?

Dear Gov. DeSantis:Here's why you should veto appropriation related to study of fertilizer bans

Proponents of fertilizer regulations say the rainy-season rules have been an important part of local governments working to keep local waters healthy.

Volusia County's ordinance, which was adopted nearly a decade ago, applies to homes and businesses within the county except for DeBary, Deltona and Edgewater as they have their own seasonal fertilizer restrictions.

Palm Coast, Bunnell and Flagler County do not have such regulations.

Melissa Lammers, chair of Volusia County's Environmental and Natural Resources Advisory Committee, said multiple studies already have shown the benefits of seasonal restrictions.

Lammers, who sits on multiple environment-related boards, said she's not aware of strict local enforcement, but she hopes residents follow the guidelines regardless.

What are the local fertilizer restrictions?

  • No fertilizer use during the summer, from June through September.
  • Fertilizer applied October through May must be at least 50% slow-release nitrogen.
  • No phosphorus can be applied to a lawn without a soil test.
  • Fertilizer must be kept at least 15 feet away from any body of water.
  • Fertilizer containing nitrogen or phosphorus cannot be applied before seeding or sodding a site, and not be applied for the first 30 days after seeding or sodding.

Fertilizer runoff fuels toxic algal blooms

Runoff with high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus contributes to cyanobacterial blooms, also known as toxic blue-green algae, that have been tied to a loss of submerged grasses and fish kills.

For the past few years, manatees, which feed on these diminishing grasses, have been starving at record rates, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Experts say fertilizer's impact in Florida already known, but study clears state budget (3)

For people, exposure to blue-green algal blooms, which are found in freshwater, can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain/tenderness and/or acute liver failure, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman said blue-green algae is being observed throughout the lower St. Johns River.

"The river is out of balance," Rinaman said by phone Monday. "We need to do everything we can to bring the St. Johns River back from its tipping point."

Experts say fertilizer's impact in Florida already known, but study clears state budget (2024)
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