Home » Phosphorous in lawn fertilizers target of proposed legislation

Phosphorous in lawn fertilizers target of proposed legislation

The state of Connecticut has 6,000 miles of streams and rivers and more than 2,000 lakes, ponds and reservoirs. A bill that will be introduced this month in the state Legislature could help protect those water bodies (as well as their surrounding wetlands) at no cost to taxpayers, according to environmentalists and clean water advocates from around the Northwest Corner.The bill is being introduced in the upcoming legislative session (which begins Feb. 8) by state Sen. Andrew Roraback (R-30) and State Rep. Clark Chapin (R-67).It focuses on phosphorous, a main ingredient in lawn fertilizer — and a catalyst in the eutrophication of lakes, ponds and rivers.Eutrophication occurs when a body of water gets overgrown with algae and weeds, and when its oxygen is depleted. Phosphorous, which runs off lawns and into lakes and ponds and other water bodies, is one of the main instigators of the process because it encourages underwater plant growth. “Lawn fertilizer that you buy in stores and at garden centers is often called 10-10-10,” explained Bill Littauer, president of Salisbury’s Lake Wononscopomuc Association. “Those numbers stand for the amount of nitrogen, phosphorous and potash they contain.”“People think they need all three to have a green, healthy lawn,” said Tom McGowan, who is executive director of the Lake Waramaug Task Force as well as Salisbury’s town planning consultant. Roraback credited McGowan with originating the idea for this bill.“It isn’t actually the phosphorous that makes your lawn green, it’s the nitrogen,” McGowan said. “The phosphorous is for the roots. Established lawns don’t actually need phosphorous.”The bill, if passed, will restrict the use of fertilizers with phosphorous on any lawns that are established; will prohibit the use of phosphorous within 20 feet of a water body; and will prohibit the use of phosphorous fertilizers between Nov. 15 and April 1.Stores will also be required to sell phosphorous separately from other lawn fertilizers, and they will have to post educational signs and literature that explain the problems associated with the nutrient.Fertilizer manufacturers are already getting behind the idea, McGowan said. Scott’s for example is moving toward zero-phosphorous products.And other states are planning or have already introduced similar legislation. “Eleven states have already done this,” Roraback said. “With the many lakes, ponds and rivers in this state, it’s time for Connecticut to get on this as well.”McGowan and Littauer were among representatives from nine environmental and clean water groups that attended a press conference Monday, Feb. 6, to announce the planned legislation. There were also representatives from groups that protect the Twin Lakes in Salisbury, Bantam Lake, Lake Lillinonah, Candlewood Lake and Highland Lake. The Housatonic Valley Association and The River Alliance were represented as well.“I think the proposed legislation is terrific,” McGowan said. He and Littauer both said they feel that the rules could be even stricter but, McGowan said, “You have to be realistic.”He feels that manufacturers are already getting on board with the idea by producing phosphorous-free fertilizer and he hopes that homeowners will support the movement by purchasing them.The idea isn’t to ruin lawns, he added. In a perfect world, homeowners would get their soil tested to see what nutrients are actually needed. Anyone with an established lawn in need of a shot of phosphorous could get permission. But he understands that testing isn’t always easy or possible.He also encouraged homeowners with lakefront or pondside properties to plant a buffer of low-lying native shrubs along their shorelines. “Because it’s low you can still have lake views,” he said. “The shrubs can be quite beautiful. And they’re much more effective than lawn in capturing phosphorous before it runs down into the lake.”

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