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Florida’s Turf War Over Fertilizer Pollution Heats Up

December 9, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. - The turf war over fertilizer use is heating up in Hillsborough County this week. On Wednesday, the county commission, in its dual role as the Environmental Protection Commission, considers limiting fertilizer pollution in area waterways.

Joe Murphy, Florida program director for the Gulf Restoration Network, says the nitrogen in fertilizer runoff is choking waterways, causing toxic algae blooms and red tide outbreaks that are harmful to public health, the environment, and the economy.

"People move to Florida to be close to the water. They don't move here to see red tide, to see massive algae blooms or fish kills. They move here to be able to be on the water, use the water and enjoy the water - that's the backbone of our economy."

A 2008 report found poor water quality in about one-half of Florida rivers and more than half its lakes. Murphy says federal regulators also are pressuring local governments to clean up. About 20 of them have already passed ordinances that restrict the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers, particularly during the rainy season and near waterways. These rules do not prevent people from fertilizing their yards, he adds.

"This is a chance to take a big step in the right direction. This is simple, citizen-based solutions, at no cost to taxpayers, to deal with directly how consumers can protect the environment. Cleaning up water once it's polluted is a multimillion dollar process, but if you can avoid that by reducing pollution in the first place, taxpayers reap the benefit of a healthier environment and a much-reduced cost."

Critics argue that an ordinance would be unenforceable and would not help the problem. Murphy says the ordinance could save Hillsborough County millions of dollars in stormwater treatment costs, and that counties with similar ordinances are already seeing water quality improvements.

Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL