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Falmouth Fish Kill Site

Lawn care industry greed kills fish

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.

7 responses on “Lawn care industry greed kills fish

  1. Rob Moir, Ph.D. Post author

    MA Beacon Hill state legislators put language into the Budget Bill that exempts towns including Falmouth who strengthened lawn care application regs during the last 12 months. If not taken out by the Senate and if signed by the Governor, Falmouth’s home rule will be restored.
    Here’s the language in the budget, as I am not a lawyer:
    SECTION 157. Notwithstanding sections 2 and 65A of chapter 128 of the General Laws, 1851 sections 8 and 9 of chapter 262 of the acts of 2012 or any other general or special law to the 1852 contrary, any ordinance or by-law relative to nutrient management or establishing fertilizer 1853 guidelines enacted or adopted by a city or adopted by a town between July 31, 2012 and July 31, 1854 2013 shall be enforceable by that city or town, notwithstanding any disapproval under section 32 1855 of chapter 40 of the General Laws occurring prior to July 1, 2013. 1856

  2. Phillip C'de Baca

    Lawns are now wrong for communities. We must conserve water. We must constantly be are looking for ways to save water. Low water use yards are better for the environment or plant a garden instead.

  3. Sarah

    Yes it truly is ridiculous how problems such as this one start looking unbelievably unimportant compared to the world news. Another phase of the cold-war, the actual real war that erupts, Russia-China fuel offer axis… Yet here we’re with your socialmedia dilemmas, – may we ever see the globe has altered? I’m not saying what you write about is inconsequential, I’m indicating that a certain amount of detachment is balanced. Thanks, Sarah @ http://phyto-renew350e.com/

  4. Smallboi

    sounds like that would not be egounh water for such a young lawn, or at least that it isn’t long egounh. You will not get deep roots watering 15 minuets twice a day they will be very shallow and thus dry out easily. Also, fertilizing during the early growing period isn’t easy on the grass plants. I have a new lawn too and other than the initial fertilizer, I have held off on any more applications because it has been too dry and hot and I imagine it is hotter and dryer in NM. Absolutely you will not want to fertilize brown spots. The grass there *might* be dead already actually. Try this .water only every other day, but water more deeply, at LEAST 30 minutes per time, preferably more like an hour. After a week or two of this, start to cut back to watering every 3rd or 4th day, just as long though. The key is to water less frequently, but more deeply, to encourage good deep root growth. The brown areas though I would water every day, deeply, to see if you can get them to green up. If they don’t respond in a few weeks, you will likely have to cut them out and reseed.

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