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Trim Your Runoff: Lawn Fertilizer Pollution Would Be Cut By Proposed Law

Lawn A Maryland Senate Committee yesterday held a hearing on a bill that would reduce fertilizer runoff pollution into the Chesapeake Bay by prohibiting homeowners from spreading fertilizer on their lawns before March 1 or after Nov. 15, or whenever the ground is frozen.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation strongly supports the Fertilizer Use Act of 2011, also known as Senate Bill 487, which would also limit the nitrogen and phosphorus content in lawn fertilizers.  And the legislation would bar the use of fertilizer within 10 feet to 15 feet of a stream or lake, depending on how it is applied. To learn more, click here.




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The State continues to dump spoils into the Bay by the barge loads and once again the little guy gets the shaft.
CBF has been around for 40 years and unless you're blind, the Bay has not gotten any better in that time frame.
Baltimore thinks it can dredge 400 years of slime out of the inner harbor and it will be magically clear.
2 billion gallons of raw sewage continue to flow into the Bay annually from municipalities.
But organizations continue to pick on the little guy for little issues.
My vote is NO.

Thanks for the comment, Mark, but I have to disagree.

In fact, certain things about the Bay have gotten better -- and it's almost always because of government regulation.

For example, the number of blue crabs in the Bay have more than doubled over the last two years, because MD and VA imposed restrictions on catching female crabs.

Water quality in the Potomac River has improved dramatically because EPA forced DC's waste water treatment plant (called Blue Plains) to invest in better pollution control equipment.

Rockfish are more numerous now than they were in the 1970s and early 1980s, because of smart restrictions on catching them -- and a moratorium on fishing for them in the late 1980s.

Osprey, blue herons and bald eagles are much more numerous now than 40 years ago, because EPA banned the use of DDT in the U.S.

Water clarity and the amount of aquatic vegetation in the Bay have increased slightly in the last five years -- and this could well be due, in part, to better controls on sewage treatment plants.

Yes, the ecology of the Bay is still dangerously out of balance. It is not nearly as healthy as it should be. But to claim that nothing has worked would be overly simplistic.

Regulation has often worked quite well, when it has been attempted.

I couldn't agree with you more Tom. If it wasn't for MDE or DNR regulations could you imagine what the bay would look like?? Its a scary thought. I think limiting fertilizer use is well past due. As far as the bay's health it's rating increased to 31 in the latest CBF report..thats progress a little at a time!

People like to beat up on MDE and DNR (and I have myself, occasionally). But the truth is, without MDE and EPA regulations on sewage plants, we'd have raw sewage gushing down our rivers, and blue-green algal blooms blanketing the Potomac River (as we had back in the 1960s and 1970s).

Without DNR regulations, we'd have virtually no blue crabs and no rockfish.

So it makes you wonder, if regulations can work so well in these areas -- sewage plants, and fisheries management -- why shouldn't they work with lawn fertilizer, too?

They probably would work, if people give them a chance.

We are happy to see the Maryland bill moving. We wrote the NJ law on which it is based. The most important thing is that the nitrogen in any lawn fertilizer sold be required to be at least 20% water soluble. (Univ. of Maryland recommends 40%, but 20% is very meaningful.) We too had to calm the feathers of people who couldn't quite see that lawn fertilizer is just one of the steps that can and will eventually be taken. Willie deCamp, Chm, Save Barnegat Bay, 732-892-3465.

Thanks, Willie.

Just out of curiosity, in New Jersey, how did you counter the claim that the law might be hard to enforce?

A lively debate has broken out on the CBF Facebook site over this article. The readers were asked, should the government regulate lawn fertilizer? Yes or no? And these were the responses we received:

* Shannon Kropkowsk:i non-point pollution sucks for the bay... residential properties should be more regulated.

*Jillian Rajevich: Oh yeah, another law. That'll solve all of our problems. I can see everyone cowaring in their homes waiting for the police to arrest them for fertilizing their lawns out of season. Get real.

*Rick Reeder: YES

* Amy McGuire: It would give me a handy excuse to ignore my yard, no matter how nice the weather is during those months. :)

* Matthew Slagel: Who fertilizers their lawn during those months anyways? As far as I'm concerned, they ought to just throw this one away b/c it's a waste of time. Bigger fish to fry, in my humble opinion.

* Chesapeake Bay Foundation: Jillian, do you also think that farm fertilizer should not be regulated? If farm fertilizer is regulated, shouldn't lawn fertilizer also be regulated? Or should we just let folks do whatever they want? Tom Pelton

* Will Hatcher There is a difference between farmers and homeowners, Mr. Pelton. The big divide is financial. Farmers cannot afford to waste fertilizer, so we are careful to apply it where it will do the most good for our crops (and not run off). Home owners are in it for bragging rites. A pretty lawn means higher status. This has to end.

* Anne Vivino-Hintze: Some folks I know in Maryland are using fertilizer to de-ice their long rural driveway. They feel that is a better choice than using salt. Any thoughts?

* Rick Reeder: i have lived in va beach for fifty years now in the area around shore drive and great neck. my neighborhood is surrounded by waterfront property and canals that run into the lynnhaven river into the lynnhaven bay and into the cheasapeake

* Chesapeake Bay Foundation I agree with you on that, Will. There is no need to bomb the bay with lawn fertilizer, just for bragging rights about how green our lawns are. Tom Pelton

* Matthew Slagel: Nearly impossible to police this practice. Placing regulations on that, specifically, won't really be of any benefit.

By the way, long rural driveways are typically a result of large lots and, therefore, these driveways most likely drain

* Matthew Slagel: Rick, I agree with you that the problem is real. This is as much a social problem as anything else. My opinion is that banning it between the proposed months (Nov. 15-Mar 1) seems relatively worthless. Where did these dates come from anyways? What's the justification behind the selection of these dates?

* Anne Vivino-Hintze: The driveway on which fertilizer instead of salt is spread is long and steep and drains onto a dirt road, almost directly into a creek. Monocacy River watershed.

* Will Hatcher: Rick, you are absolutely right about growth. I think population is the elephant in the room here. The land has been logged and farmed for centuries but never before the past 50 years had there been a complaint about water quality in the bay. It seems the population boom is the real cause of the runoff pollution we are seeing today. So, I ask the whole forum today, why must the focus be on agriculture when it's pretty clear where the problem lays?

* Iris Mars: It's not practical to regulate how homeowners use fertilizers. However, one option is to eliminate fertilizers from being readily available for sale and require that only licensed applicators buy and apply them, much like they do for certain pesticides. That would be a tough battle to fight, though! But the end result would be that a homeowner who really needed the perfectly green lawn would need to pay a licensed applicator to fertilize it, and many would decide it's not worth it and look at other alternatives.

* Chesapeake Bay Foundation: Matthew, the idea behind the dates is to discourage people from spreading fertilizer when the ground is frozen, which would make it more likely to run off. But the bill would also do more, by restricting the nutrient content of fertilizer. To learn more, go to Tom Pelton

* Matthew Slagel: Will, I think that's an unfair statement/question. I don't believe the focus is on agriculture. If that's the case, we wouldn't even be discussing residential lawn fertilizer. I understand that agriculture is being hit, but so is everything

* Iris Mars: Those of you who have switched from lawns to native plant landscapes and want to have photos of your landscapes in our photo gallery on the Maryland Native Plant Society website, please send photos to info @ You can help inspire others to change!

* Matthew Slagel:'s not hard to figure out the idea behind the dates. My question still stands...."How many people actually spread lawn fertilizer between these dates?" In theory, it sounds like something great...but in practicality, will the intended results be seen?

* Beth Yeatman Spindler: I wish everyone would stop with the lawn fertilizers....I can remember headaches, sinus problems and keeping kids and pets inside when the neiighbors up the street had the big white and green truck come and spray their lawn.....we were downwind and guess who got the residue......disgusting....should be outlawed...what is the big deal about a green lawn when you have to go to such drastic measures for our environment...not to mention our HEALTH!!!

* Christopher Loser If someone actually thinks that fertilizer is great when the ground is frozen, they should be shot. Besides that point, most people don't know how much fertilizer is good for their lawn and how much is in excess. I would rather see an education program than a regulation one, as that (in theory) will have people understand why fertilizer is a problem instead of trying to get around the law.

*Danny Smith: If I fertilize less would I not have to cut more.

* Matthew Slagel: Here here. After all, there is all kind of government distrust out there right add another regulation feeds the distrust. While I am NOT against regulation, we need to pick and choose rather than going all-in all the time. An education program can hit the economic, environmental and social aspects all at once and sets the beacon of the ultimate goal.

* Joyce Curran Holbrook: NO "ChemLawn"...bad for bugs, birds, children, water, pets, wildlife......

* Daniel Aloysius Mueller: Homeowner lawn fertilizer needs to be regulated. This bill encompasses more than homeowner output. They are, as a rule, not educated nor financially restrained like golf course managers or farmers.

* C Ann Lawrence: Homeowner lawn fertilizer needs to be banned. It's all cosmetic at the cost of sickening us and the rest of the environment.

* Peter Karl: Not sure who's fertilizing their lawn when the ground is frozen. Seems like there's a better solution than enacting a law with that wording.

* Nora Dugal Callahan: No law is needed...please. I keep reading that we may only need to fertilize once every few years but why can I only find Weed AND Feed products and Home Depot and Lowes. I just want to sprinkle a little pre-emergent weed killer or maybe there is a better way?

* Danny Lease I tried organic fertlizer last year and it did not work!!! What can be put on your lawn that helps without harm?

* Susan Rice: Yes, this is a very reasonable law; doesn't prohibit the use altogether as may be necessary. Also, forget the lawn; the Bay and our drinking water is much more important. Many years ago people didn't spend a fortune on grass. If grass isn't growing in a shaded area, etc., try something else. There are many groundcovers that don't need fertilizers

* Bill Anderson If you want a presentable (not perfect but not bad) lawn, use a mulching mower and stop harvesting a crop of grass clippings every ten days. Also, recycle your clippings (if you must bag them) by finding a gardener to give them to. They are great when turned into the garden soil! Either way, Stop fertilizing grass!


What we came to notice about the question "How will this law be enforced?" is that the word enforcement carries a variety of meanings.

1 - Enforcement may refer simply to the mechanics that make the law effective. The most important aspect of the law -- in my way of looking at it -- has not been discussed in the Bay Daily comments or on the Facebook page. That is that the law, assuming it is modeled on New Jersey, requires that any lawn fertilizer sold in the state of Maryland have environmentally friendly contents. That means three things: (a) 20% of the nitrogen must be water soluble (b) there must be zero phosphorus (with special exceptions), and (c) the labeling if read and follow must results in only 0.9 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft. being applied. That is what is missing from your online discussions and postings. This is a content law, not just a labeling law. That means that when the consumer -- whether he knows a lot about fertilizer or nothing at all -- goes to the store, anything he pulls off the shelf will be environmentally friendly. That is the why the law is enforceable in the sense of being functionally meaningful.

2 - Enforcement can refer to how this law is policed at the point of sale. It will be simple to see whether the products on offer comply. And since Scotts-MiracleGro products comprise the lion's share of the market, most or all products will comply without any policing required.

3 - Enforcement can refer to how the content prohibition is enforced with respect to the homeowner. Here the answer is gloriously simple in that essentially no enforcement will be necessary. That is because non-complying product will not be for sale in Maryland (or in neighboring Pennsylvania and Virginia if parallel bills achieve similar successes). So no one has to worry about environmental Nazis doing spot checks in their garage!

4 - Enforcement can refer to how the law is policed with regard to homeowner actions such as leaving fertilizer in the street, fertilizing in buffers, fertilizing when is it raining, or fertilizing during the time of year proscribed. The New Jersey law leaves that form of enforcement to the localities. If you are seen spreading fertilizer on the sidewalk and not sweeping it up, you may get the fine. Everybody recognizes that this might end up not get enforced very often -- much like litter laws. But having these requirements on the books achieves at least two positive things. First, it gives to localities that care enough the option to enforce. Second it will stimulate the large number of people who respect the rule of law, who do care, and who do wish to do the right thing to voluntarily behave in an environmentally responsible way.

I am happy to answer any questions. We are rather excited about the whole thing. We sat through so many boring meetings and fielded so many questions from caring and not-so-caring people that we have memorized most of the rebuttals to the inevitable criticisms.

Best, Willie deCamp

PS You may use this communication in any way you please.

William deCamp Jr., Chairman
Save Barnegat Bay
906-B Grand Central Ave
Lavallette, NJ 08738

Thanks for the summation Willie. I am all in now rather than just tepidly in.

Tom (and Willie),

All of us here support efforts to reduce chemicals into the bay, but it's ashame that we cannot pass a law with more substance to it. The way it's written seems very much like a watered down compromise.

If the Univ of MD recommends the fertilizer be 40% water soluble, why settle for 20%? Does the 40% make the fertilizer less effective, more costly to the consumer, or both?

The bill states that industry representatives believe that fertilizer applicators would lose revenue as a result of the banning of 11/15 - 3/1. What will happen is that MORE chemicals are used from 3/2-11/14 to make up for this. I also cannot imagine that those 3 1/2 months account for a large % of the annual fertilizer used. Ban them from the end of summer through the end of winter, or limit the treatments to a maximum of 3 a year per lawn versus the 4 or 5 right now.

Lastly, requiring certifcation, continuing education, and the hiring of 3rd party companies to administer applicator licensing all amounts to costs to the workers applying the chemicals, which may be passed onto the consumer at some point. Is this clause an indication that lawn treatment companies have been found using fertilizers in excess of manufacturer guidelines, or more a case where MD wants to regulate something before they think it bcomes a problem? Is it a problem right now, and if so, how severe is it?

Good intentions, but at least for me, simply not enough chemical restrictions and unnecessary oversight and cost to the people who apply/use the fertilizers.

Good question, Peter.

Does anyone out there know why the bill calls for 20 percent rather than 40 percent water soluble?

Rockfish may be more numerous than they have been in a while but those spawning fish are showing alarming signs of birth defects and dying at a faster rate...The CBF is on the curve ball monitoring this..Heather just spoke about this at my Master Gardener Bay Wise class in Cambridge...They just arent as strong...Poullution is still the culprit..Statistics alone dont always tell the detailed, full true story...Thats why longitudinal studies are needed before a full assessment on any aquatic creature can be made.

I just scanned the wording of the Maryland Bill and see nothing mentioning a 20% soluble N stipulation. If you are truly speaking of having a 20% soluble N fertilizer, then you are speaking of a product that has 80% water insoluble N. Which is better than a 40% soluble, which would only have 60% insoluble. Insoluble N stays where it is put(that is if it isn't applied prior to a downpour or onto an impervious surface)and is slowly broken down into soluble N for the plant to use. This process takes weeks/months/years depending on the fertilizer technology. Soluble N is readily available to the plant but also readily available to leaching and runoff. With all of this said and having not actually seen it in writing, I would guess that when you are speaking of requiring at least 20% soluble fertilizer you are really meaning at least 20% insoluble fertilizer as there are not many 80% slow release fertilizers available.

Consider this one:

There is a 501(c)(3) "religious" organization that is planning to purchase 340 acres in Welcome for a resort complex, disguised as a "prayer garden".

The plans include a hotel and amphitheater to accommodate up to 3,000 people, a parking lot for 1,500 vehicles, and a 9-hole golf course!

The pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer runoff from the golf course and the oil and transmission fluids from parking lot will discharge to the Nanjemoy Creek, a tributary of the Potomac.

The resort would withdraw thousands of gallons of ground-water each day to water the golf course, fill up the swimming pools and Lazy River in addition to the laundry and bathing needs for as many as 3,000 people that would be housed in the hotel and numerous cabins planned at the site.

Welcome is currently zoned Agriculture Conservation and a resort complex such as this would be extremely damaging to the Nanjemoy Creek and the ground-water supplies.

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