The fertilizer industry is fighting a bylaw that Falmouth town meeting passed that would limit fertilizer use within 100 feet of an estuary and town-wide reduce application by five times the amount recommended by the Massachusetts Association of Lawn Care Professionals.
Thanks to the Cape Cod Times for publishing this opinion piece of mine on June 13, 2013. I am now meeting with state legislators on Beacon Hill to accomplish responsible lawn care practices throughout the state. It is just wrong to have spent thousands of dollars installing a new septic system to see one’s neighbor spreading excessive fertilizer on a May or June day. There ought to be law where I can say: Hey that stuff kills fish. Don’t apply that now because this is the time of the most harmful algal blooms fed by nitrogen from lawn fertilizer. Save it for September and you need only apply one third of that to maintain a green lawn. Save the rest to spread in April when cooler weather and shorter daylight won’t let the algae consume it. I save money by using the grass clippings on the lawn.
On May 15, the attorney general’s municipal law unit issued the decision that the fertilizer industry’s state law trumps a town’s right to regulate lawn care applications. Falmouth cannot limit citizens to 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. Instead, the industry/state standard of 5 pounds nitrogen per 1,000 square feet holds.
A striped bass or clean beach is a terrible thing to waste for monetary greed by one industry. Expect to see more dead fish as the weather warms, daylight lengthens, and fertilizer-nitrogen chokes waterways and litters shores with stinking slime.
The Massachusetts Association of Lawn Care Professionals, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts and Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. are scamming lawn owners into using five times more fertilizer than needed. They pushed through the state law with their “science” preventing municipalities from regulating lawn fertilizer applications. Falmouth’s bylaw was consistent with the practices of many golf courses that know better. They save money while keeping their grass green and putters satisfied.
The out-of-state industries’ deception was discovered by Falmouth managers when excessive fertilizer run-off combined with nitrogen from septic systems caused algae to bloom in Long Pond. The algae may have released toxins, and blooming algae consumed the entire dissolved oxygen, killing for first time in local memories many striped bass and one horseshoe crab last July. Death came in the combination of warm weather, the longest daylight periods of the year, and nitrogen-fed algal blooms depleting the oxygen.
Falmouth has 15 estuaries, more than any other Massachusetts municipality. Its attempt to combat the harmful algal blooms plaguing its shores came in the form of a bylaw limiting residents to a pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn each year. The bylaw also prohibited the application of fertilizer between Oct. 16 and April 14. During the growing season, from April 15 to Oct. 15, fertilizer application is banned during heavy rain and banned within 100 feet of water.
Fertilizer regulations are not new for Massachusetts coastal communities. The first one was passed by the Puritans in 1639, when they prohibited the use of cod or striped bass for fertilizer. Their concern was driven by a notable population decline of the two best eating fish.
In August, the Massachusetts Association of Lawn Care Professionals, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts and Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., anticipating local responsible stewardship initiatives by towns, acted swiftly to pass a law that gives the state sole authority to regulate fertilizer applications. The industries know better, but are too addicted to profiting from increased fertilizer sales every year to inform lawn owners of the proper amount of fertilizer to put down.
Of course, residents may voluntarily follow Falmouth’s lead to modify their lawn care practices on the land to save the sea while maintaining green grass. I recommend four simple steps: right place, right stuff, right amount, at the right time.
Right place means do not fertilize lawn within 100 feet of water or wetland. Fertilize adjacent portions of the lawn and let it spread on its own. Leave the grass clippings to feed the lawn, and fertilizer may not be needed every year.
Right stuff means slow-release or timed-release nitrogen, at least 50 percent. Even better is 100 percent, which costs more but requires fewer applications. Slow release nitrogen feeds the lawn grass over time, and use of 100 percent slow-release nitrogen eliminates the gassing out of nitrous oxide from lawns. Nitrous oxide is the third worst greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide and methane, lastingin the atmosphere for 120 years.
Right amount: about 1 pound nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn. Excess fertilizer is bad because bacteria fix inert mercury to the nitrogen, creating methyl mercury, a poison that bioaccumulates in our seafood.
Right time is crucial for restoring clean water and healthy striped bass. Do not fertilizer when the ground is frozen. Do fertilize in April — breakfast time for lawns — and again in September if your lawn calls for it.
By taking four lawn care steps, Cape Cod can have green lawns, clean water, more pleasant beaches and no fish kills.