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Fertilizer Use and its Impact on Harmful Algae Blooms(Red Tide)

Florida is a state defined by and dependent upon the quality of its water resources.  Florida’s springs, waterways, coastline and beaches are world renowned.  Floridians are boaters, anglers, beachgoers, birdwatchers, surfers, coastal residents and coastal business owners.  70% percent of our economy is directly linked to the coasts.  Florida’s waterways are the playground of its residents and the economic engine of the state.

The health of Florida’s waterways, coasts, and coastal economy are emerging as a primary concern of local leaders, businesses and organizations.  Currently, city and county commissioners from across the state are analyzing and implementing common sense initiatives to protect their precious water resources.  Based upon sound science and careful deliberation, reducing the improper and excessive use of fertilizer has been identified as a sustainable strategy in both local and broader policy contexts by responsible governing institutions.

This issue is of such pressing concern because, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, residential fertilizer use increased by 153,533.95 tons or 45% from 2003 to 2006This massive increase in the use of fertilizer on urban and suburban landscapes represents a clear and pressing threat to our water quality. 

As most Floridians are aware, both the myriad of freshwater and coastal systems of the state have been plagued by an increasing incidence of toxic and nuisance harmful algal blooms, widely recognized to be a result of poor water quality. 

We have toxic cyanobacteria blooms that sicken visitors and contaminate our world famous springs, blue-green algae that chokes off life on the St. Johns, St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers, persistent and destructive algal blooms that continue to degrade what was once the world’s most productive fishery in the Florida Bay, Red Drift Algae coats the beaches of Southwest Florida. In 2005, we experienced the worst red tide bloom in 34 years, which lasted over 13 months and was linked to a massive “dead-zone” that covered an area the size of Rhode Island.  Beginning in 2006 into 2007, a 7 month long Red Tide Bloom has plagued the southwest coast of Florida.   We are rapidly turning Florida into a Petri dish and we must stop the experiment. 

What can we do? 

The focus on the Red Tide and Coastal Pollution campaign is to provide the common sense and practical answers to that question.  We have every reason to be optimistic.  We have the resources, the expertise, and the ideas necessary to begin building a sustainable future for our community.  The missing ingredient in this equation is the political will to take what is common sense and make it common place. 

From incorporating low-impact development and green design that captures and treats runoff before it enters our fragile watersheds, to reducing the use of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides by embracing Florida Friendly Landscaping principles with a focus on native plants and cost-effective controlled release fertilizer, to making the long overdue investment in our sewage treatment and sewage infrastructure.

We need every member of the Sierra Club to voice their support for better stewardship of our precious water resources, such as the need to reduce the improper use of fertilizer.  In Sarasota County, the efforts Sierra Club Volunteer Leaders and Staff to raise awareness on the dangers of excessive and improper use of fertilizer are bearing fruit as the county develops a fertilizer ordinance. In this regard, Sarasota County created a website to collect input from the community on how to reduce the use of fertilizer.   You can visit the site at www.scgov.net/fertilizer, fill out the survey on fertilizer management and view the process for yourself.

The Red Tide and Coastal Pollution Campaign urges you to contact your City and County Commissioners and voice your support for the Sierra Club’s common sense steps that will have a positive long-term impact on the health of our communities.

The Sierra Club recommends we take these five fundamental steps to reduce the use of fertilizer in order to protect our precious water resources.

  1. Incorporate Low-Impact Development into the Planning of our Ecologically Sensitive Community. Landscape design that emphasizes, drought tolerant native plants and grasses, zero fertilization, and reclaimed water for irrigation.
  2. No Fertilization During the Summer Rainy Season – June 1st – September 30th.
  3. Florida Friendly Fertilizer – If you choose to apply fertilizer to your landscape, use it only once or twice per year. Require that it include 100% controlled or time release nitrogen, contain no phosphorus, be climate appropriate, and be non-urea based.
  4. Ring of Responsibility - Minimum 25 Feet – If you choose to apply fertilizer, maintain a 25 foot ring of responsibility between any body of water or impervious surface and the area to be fertilized.
  5. Require Best Management Practices Certification for Lawn Care Professionals.

We have the potential to leave our children and grandchildren a better Florida.   It is our responsibility as good stewards of the environment to drain the political swamp that stifles common sense reforms and to make these initiatives commonplace.  Protecting our environment is not a political or partisan issue. It is an issue of injecting the values we embrace as Floridians into the policies we implement as a coastal state.  

Stuart DeCew

Regional Representative

Red Tide and Coastal Pollution Campaign

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