Regulating fertilizer use

Dr. Kirk A. Hurto, Vice president of technical services, TruGreen-Chemlawn (Delaware, Ohio)

The Coastal Water Protection Act and the Clean Water Act have resulted in states proposing nutrient-use guidelines to reduce non-point-source water pollution. Maryland has proposed a turf maximum of 2 pounds nitrogen/1,000 square feet/year, while Virginia's voluntary Nutrient Management Plan restricts dates and rates of applications.

But is turf the concern? Is there a correlation between turf-maintenance practices and water quality or recent Pfiesteria outbreaks in the Chesapeake Bay? The Maryland Department of Natural Resources estimates two-thirds of nitrogen and more than 75 percent of phosphorus entering the Bay are a result of nutrient loss from farmlands, sanitary-treatment plants and factory-effluent discharge. In contrast, it estimates fertilizers washing off developed land and home lawns account for one-tenth of the nutrients that reach the Bay.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture-addressing farmland concerns-claims turf buffer strips will reduce 50+ percent of the nutrients and pesticides and 75 percent of sediment from farmland runoff. Pennsylvania State University and others have documented the role of well-maintained turf in reducing nutrient and sediment runoff. They report low turf-nutrient loss when Best Management Practices are followed.

Let's not arbitrarily regulate turf-fertilizer programs and restrict turf managers' ability to care for these sites. Rather, educate people on Best Management Practices to reduce nutrients entering our lakes and streams from turf sites. Let's increase public awareness of the benefits of properly managed turf to water quality. Proper fertilizer handling and use poses negligible risk of turf-nutrient runoff.

Kim Coble, Maryland senior scientist, Chesapeake Bay Foundation (Annapolis, Md.)

Fertilizer use by commercial applicators should be restricted to reduce excess nutrients from polluting waterways. When applied to lawns in the appropriate amount, fertilizers grow healthy lawns that can slow water and pollutants running off into waterways. However, when fertilizer is overapplied, there can be excessive nutrient loadings. In fact, eutrophication is the most widespread water-quality problem facing our waterways and estuaries.

It is estimated that 70 percent of the population fertilizes its lawns and yet only 20 percent tests its soils. Therefore, it is likely people are over-applying fertilizers. It is also estimated that lawn-care companies treat a lawn five to eight times a year and apply 194 to 258 pounds/acre/year of nitrogen. This is two times the recommended application to corn crops in Maryland. It is also estimated that nutrients from developed land and lawns account for 34 million pounds (10 percent) of the nutrients going into Chesapeake Bay each year. In addition, the number of lawns is increasing. Urban sprawl is causing 400,000 acres of rural land to be lost each year to lawns, parks, golf courses and other development.

If these estimates of loadings aren't enough to warrant fertilizer restrictions, the conditions of our waterways and estuaries should be. Left ignored, the excessive loadings of nutrients from our lawns, golf courses, parks and other areas will continue to degrade our waterways. While it is time that every individual take responsibility for preventing water pollution, the implementation of restrictions on commercial-lawn-fertilizer applicators to prevent overfertilization is an important step toward achieving cleaner waterways.

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