Commissioners approved a revised ordinance amending the county’s fertilizer code, relating to the use of nitrogen and/or phosphorus fertilizers. The ordinance seeks to minimize the introduction of these nutrients into the state’s waterways.
In 2018, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) established a Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) to address the increasing nitrate levels in the spring and identify the major contributing sources of nitrogen introduced into the spring. Per the BMAP, 22 percent of the nitrogen affecting the spring is caused by urban turf fertilizers.
As a result of the amendment, seasonal restrictions have been expanded to prohibit the use of urban turf fertilizers containing nitrogen from December 15th through March 15th and from June 1st through September 30th. The previous restriction was from December to March.
The amendment also removes an exemption for commercial fertilizer applicators, applying restrictions to both residential and commercial sides. The distance separating fertilizer application from any waterway has been increased to 25 feet from 10 feet.
The amended ordinance will also require businesses that sell fertilizers during the restricted periods to post signage provided by the county stating the above restrictions. The new ordinance came forth as a result of a consensus reached at a workshop held on May 2, 2023, however, the Sierra Club Florida and other organizations sent a letter to the Commission prior to this meeting requesting additional provisions to the amendment.
Michael McGrath, Organizer for the Sierra Club Florida cited additional provisions, including the usage of slow-release nitrogen formulations and setting annual limits of four pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet. McGrath reported that these recommendations are part of peer-reviewed literature from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), as well as other counties’ ordinances.
Slow-release fertilizer aims to supply nutrients to the soil over time, covering months when the ban is in effect.
“It’s very important to have these provisions in place as well so we can actually have healthy lawns throughout the entire season. If people don’t understand that if they will not find slow-release nitrogen before you have certain bans in effect, they’re not going to get the nutrient delivery system they want over that entire four-month period.”
Eugene Kelly of the Florida Native Plant Society supports the additional provisions. “The whole idea of these ordinances is to rein in nutrient pollution. It doesn’t work if the result is a bunch of dissatisfied homeowners because they have nutrient-starved lawns.” Bill Roberts of Hernando Beach would like to add a provision that prohibits yard waste from being discarded into canals, particularly by commercial landscapers.
Commissioner Brian Hawkins read an email reply he had written in response to the additional provisions requested prior to this meeting. “With the proposed ordinance, we will have the strictest fertilizer ban in the state, only allowing fertilizer to be used six months out of the year. With current frequencies of operations for commercial applications, that may only allow for four months for them to facilitate the current obligations and contracts they have with their clients. Adding further language to restrict what they can use outside of the Federal EPA label requirements … in my opinion, does unnecessary harm to our local business community. This is currently a win-win, and an objective process-oriented approach to ensure the protection of our natural resources while assuring that companies that provide the service continue to be able to adhere to the agreements and the contracts that they have in place.”
Hawkins recommended that if the board wanted to include the new language, the fertilizer bans be lifted from the winter months.
Commissioner Steve Champion commented that he found hundreds of negative opinions on slow-release fertilizer and its effectiveness in Florida after a cursory internet search.
Utilities Director Gordon Onderdonk stated that his department does educate residents on slow-release fertilizer through Florida Friendly Landscaping and IFAS. Onderdonk also added that DEP’s response to the County’s initiative is positive, stating in part, “We believe the proposed revisions to the County’s fertilizer ordinance maintain the standards and adhere to the guidance set by the model ordinance.
County Attorney Jon Jouben cautioned that additional language to the ordinance proposed at the meeting would come dangerously close to requiring a newly advertised hearing, putting the measure in danger of not being enacted before July 1, 2023.
After July 1, local governments may not be able to revise any ordinances in place pertaining to fertilizer bans. Unless Governor Ron DeSantis vetoes a line item in a budget bill, local governments will be preempted from revising their existing fertilizer ordinances. The budget bill requests $250,000 for UF to conduct a study to determine if fertilizer bans are effective.