Cris Costello: A threat to local fertilizer ordinances


Published: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 5:44 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 5:44 p.m.

For seven legislative sessions in a row, the pest control and fertilizer industries have tried to eliminate Florida’s more than 50 local ordinances that put strict controls on lawn fertilizer pollution.

In the past six years those industries failed because legislators on both sides of the aisle understand that urban fertilizer regulation is the only cheap and immediately effective way to staunch the flow of nitrogen and phosphorous into our state’s most at-risk water bodies. Taxpayers and local governments made it clear that when it comes to protecting their waterfront economic engines from toxic brown and red tides and green slime, it’s crazy for the legislature to tie their hands.

But they are at it again this year and ground zero isn’t Tallahassee but rather Brevard County where the Indian River Lagoon has now become the poster child for the death and destruction that results from inadequate water quality protection.

You’d think that everyone affected by the loss of fisheries, the dead manatees and shorebirds, and the stain on the Indian River Lagoon’s reputation as a fishing and vacation destination would praise local efforts to control pollution; especially when those efforts are aimed at cost-free prevention rather than expensive taxpayer-funded clean-up projects.

You’d think, but you’d be wrong. It is from around the Indian River Lagoon that we have seen a renewed effort by the pest and fertilizer industries to kill any sort of regulation statewide. And it is the Indian River Lagoon’s own Rep. Steve Crisafulli who started this year’s attempt at preemption of local ordinances. In March, Crisafulli called “stakeholders” together to comment on a piece of draft legislation written by industry lobbyists. This stakeholder group, heavy with industry representatives and lacking even one independent water quality expert, has come up with an amendment that is sure to be added to some bill on the House or Senate floor this week.

This “Florida Fertilizer Regulatory Review Council” amendment creates a “council” packed with pro-fertilizer members intent on implementing a one-size-fits-all model for the entire state, preempts duly elected local governments, and prevents the consideration of the costs (to taxpayers) of inappropriate use of lawn fertilizer.

There is a reason why the industry wants a one-size-fits-all model – it knows that any single statewide rule will represent the “floor” with regard to the protection of water quality rather than the “ceiling.” Local governments will be left only the weakest pollution controls with no way to make them stronger. And even though a one-size-fits-all approach is absolutely contrary to the watershed-by-watershed approach that is promoted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), that agency has not condemned the amendment’s obvious trajectory.

Who wins? Professional applicators who want the right to apply fertilizer and charge their customers for it, even if it ends up washing down the storm-drain and into everyone’s favorite waterbody.

Who loses? Everyone else: taxpayers; waterfront resorts, restaurants, charter boat captains; fishing and kayaking guides; recreational and commercial fishermen; the real estate industry; and especially homeowners whose property values and quality of life depend on the health of the water resource.

Is one industry so powerful that it can make our elected representatives and the FDEP forget about everyone else? So powerful that it can make them ignore the fact that right this minute the Indian River Lagoon and the algae-choked springs in Central and North Florida are on their deathbeds? Can it make them forget that toxic tides along Southwest Florida are chasing tourists away during high season?

We are in trouble and it is time to act fast. Call your local senators and representatives and urge them to vote “no” on any amendment that would stop the local regulation of urban fertilizers.

Lawn fertilizer’s impact on water quality varies from locality to locality. Urbanized areas with lots of impermeable surfaces speed runoff to local water bodies because water runs downhill. If fertilizer pollution is allowed to get into that runoff, impaired water quality can be the only result.

Florida’s urban communities need to be able to adopt strong ordinances to prevent fertilizer pollution because they’re on the hook for the clean up if it gets into their water. Don’t let your legislators forget that.

Cris Costello is coordinator of Sierra Club Florida’s Slime Crimes Campaign.

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