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Sierra Club - Clean Water for Florida

Nutrient Pollution Standards Campaign Archive: 2010-2011

August 2011: Federal Appeals Court Rules for Clean Water in Florida A federal appeals court struck down a challenge filed by polluting industries and upheld an historic clean water settlement between the US Environmental Protection Agency and Earthjustice that requires EPA to set limits on sewage, fertilizer and manure in Florida's waterways.

Unchecked, the phosphorus and nitrogen in sewage, manure and fertilizer are sparking repeated toxic algae outbreaks in Florida waters. These outbreaks are a public health threat because they can make people and animals sick, contaminate drinking water, cause fish kills, and shut down swimming areas. Most recently, the Caloosahatchee River in southwest Florida was covered with nauseating green slime and rotting fish for weeks.

"The polluters keep trying to use our public waters as their private sewers, but we intend to keep fighting them. They have to take responsibility for their mess," said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. "Our economy depends on tourism, and nobody wants to come to Florida to look at dead fish and slime-covered water."

A who’s-who of Florida’s leading polluting industries filed a legal challenge to stop the cleanup in January. The federal court ruled against them. "The polluters have been using scare tactics, bogus science, underhanded political bullying, and campaign cash to try to get their way. Fortunately, the Clean Water Act is still a good law that protects ordinary citizens, and it prevailed today."
- David Guest

July 2011: Sierra Club and other concerned groups gathered in protest outside of the office of U.S. Rep. John Mica to protest his sponsorship of legislation that would rein in federal authority to establish water-pollution rules in Florida and other states.

Representatives of Save the Manatee Club, Florida Native Plant Society, Environment Florida and other groups were outraged by the Representatives "Dirty Water" bill.

"I am horrified by the bill Congressman Mica has proposed and gotten passed in the House," said Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. "This bill is a passport for polluters in this state."

Mica said his legislation would require EPA to rely more on negotiating with states to get them to adopt new pollution standards and would limit the agency's ability to simply force states to adopt new rules. The protesters who gathered Thursday in the parking lot outside Mica's Maitland office said the EPA's action was long overdue because Florida officials were never going to do a proper job on their own of cleaning up state waters.

"Polluters run the state of Florida," said Frank Jackalone, staff director of the Sierra Club in Florida. "We need somebody outside with a big stick."

The EPA is concurring with concerned citizens in Florida who want to curtail the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen pollution that finds its way into lakes and streams from sources such as crop and lawn fertilizers and from the discharge of treated sewage.That pollution can trigger rampant growths of algae capable of wiping out certain fish and native plants. Advocates of EPA's efforts to enforce the federal Clean Water Act in the state cite widespread examples of waterways suffering from nutrient pollution, including the St. Johns River in Central and North Florida.

Read Orlando Sentinel's Op Ed piece on protecting Florida's water Protect Florida's water

June 2011: Sixty supporters of clean water answered the call from Sierra Club and community partners to show up at the Tampa City Council meeting (June 23) to urge council members to pass an ordinance banning purchase and use of nitrogen lawn fertilizer during Florida’s rainy summer months. Backed by this massive outpouring of support from residents, council members stood firm in the face of immense pressure from national corporate fertilizer, pest control and landscape companies and passed the ordinance in a 6 to 1 vote! Tampa joins Pinellas County across Tampa Bay in eliminating the sale and use of nitrogen lawn fertilizer in the summer when North America’s most intense thunderstorms deliver most of the state’s annual rainfall. These heavy downpours wash fertilizer off lawns and into rivers, canals, Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, feeding all manner of harmful, toxic algae blooms.

A sense of urgency filled the room with a July 1 deadline looming for local governments to pass a summer sales ban on non-compliant fertilizers, under a new state law passed after the Scotts MiracleGro Company donated $1 million to legislators. Sierra Club members were joined by neighborhood associations, small businesses, local conservation and civic organizations whose members spoke eloquently about the importance of taking action to reduce the amount of harmful nutrients - nitrogen and phosphorous - that flow into our bays and waterways. Friends of the Hillsborough River, Suncoast Native Plant Society, Tampa Bay Estuary Program, Tomorrow Matters, Florida Consumer Action Network and many others filled the chamber and an overflow room.

Tampa now joins the other 43 cities and counties along Florida’s Gulf Coast that are covered by rainy season nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizer application bans, now in effect from Tampa Bay to Naples. For the past several years Sierra Club Florida’s Red Tide campaign has led the way in organizing community support for these many victories from our offices in Ft. Myers, Sarasota and St. Petersburg, gaining broad-based, bi-partisan support from neighborhoods and businesses dependant upon waterways free of toxic algae blooms for fishing and tourism.

Starting June 1, 2012, Tampa will join Pinellas County and all of its municipalities in prohibiting the sale of the products that are illegal to apply during the June 1 to Sept. 30 rainy season. This move in Pinellas County has already replaced the unsustainable products on store shelves with “summer-safe” blends developed by Florida businesses that make lawns greener and healthier with iron & other elements that, however, don’t feed algae when washed into the water. Fertilizer sold October – May will be required to have half its nitrogen in a slow release form so it stays on lawns for months to gradually feed turf without washing off, eliminating any need to apply during the rainy season.

The ban is expected to prevent eight tons of nitrogen from getting into Tampa's waterways, saving the city $56 million in removal costs. In a victory luncheon following the council vote, Sierra Club Florida Senior Organizing Manager Frank Jackalone told supporters "Tampa is now the largest city in the state of Florida with a strong summer fertilizer ban, which is why this is such an important victory." Sierra Club Organizing Representative Phil Compton, added "Today we won a victory for the Hillsborough River, Tampa Bay and all of our waterways. It was a victory for our future!"

Tampa now shares with Pinellas County the distinction of having the strongest urban fertilizer regulations in the state – something we hope every county and city that cares about improving water quality will aspire to in the future. - Marcia Biggs, Chair of the Sierra Club Tampa Bay Group, Phil Compton, Field Organizer, Sierra Club

Marti Daltry, Sierra Club field staff, pleas for fertilizer ordinance

May 24, 2011: Manatee County passes fertilizer ordinance.

On May 24, Manatee County became the 36th local government in Florida to adopt a strict rainy season urban fertilizer application ban. The passage of the fertilizer ordinance culminated a three-year fight by the Manatee-Sarasota Sierra Group to protect all our aquatic ecosystems from the toxic runoff.

Over 40 proponents of strong fertilizer management gathered in the commission chambers, some testifying for the ordinance. They were identified by the neon stickers that have become a staple of the Sierra Club’s presence at council and commission meetings across the state. The usual opponents were also present; Tru-Green, Scotts Miracle-Gro, Valley Crest and pest control industry representatives argued for the absolute minimum measures found in the FDEP Model Ordinance. The turf industry (Schroeder-Manatee Ranch) also chimed in and attempted, unsuccessfully, to gut the ordinance with a proposal to exempt all licensed applicators from the entire ordinance.

The draft ordinance presented to the county commissioners was close to a mirror image of the Pinellas County ordinance passed in 2010 – the strongest urban fertilizer management ordinance in the state – and included the fertilizer sales restrictions found only in Pinellas County to date. However, after over three hours of presentations, public comment and commissioner discussion, the draft ordinance was stripped of the sales restrictions but remained with all of the other strong fertilizer pollution control provisions found in the Pinellas, Sarasota, and Lee County ordinances. These include:
  • A ban on application of fertilizer containing Nitrogen and/or Phosphorous in the four rainy summer months – from June 1-Sept. 30.
  • A required fertilizer-free zone of at least 10 feet from water bodies.
  • A yearly application limit for Nitrogen of 4 pounds per 1,000 square feet.
  • The required use of at least 50 percent slow-release/controlled release nitrogen products.
The City of Tampa, Charlotte County and Collier County are currently in the process of debating the adoption of their own 4-month rainy season application bans – if they follow the leadership provided by the other 36 local governments, the chain of strong fertilizer pollution control codes will cover the entire southwest Florida gulf coast. - Chris Costello, Sierra Club Regional Representative

April 15, 2011: Water Quality Fight Update
Congratulations to all who are working for clean water in Florida. Sierra Club Florida lobbyist Dave Cullen and Florida field organizer Cris Costello have lead a successful campaign that rallied intense grassroots and grasstops opposition to defeat an attempt in the Florida House of Representatives to preempt any local city and county fertilizer management ordinances stronger than Florida's very weak "model" fertilizer ordinance.

The bill would have negated the successful efforts of Sierra Club staff and volunteers in the Florida Red Tide Campaign over the past five years that secured in more than 40 cities and counties strong ordinances restricting the use and sale of fertilizer products containing nitrogen and phosphorus.

The bill was stripped of preemption language in time for the final vote in the House today. When Rep. Ingram took to the floor of the House yesterday to announce his substitute bill, he declared "This amendment has the support of the Florida Association of Counties, the League of Cities and - believe it or not (long pause) - the Sierra Club!"

Although the Florida Senate has yet to vote on a companion bill, we are very hopeful that the House bill will pave the way to final victory. Stay tuned. Your help will be needed when a senate bill comes up.

Many thanks to members of the Sierra Club Florida Legislative Advisory Committee, the SCF Steering Committee, the SCF Water Quality/Red Tide Team and Florida field organizing staff copied on this message who all played an important role in leading us to this important step on the road to victory.
- Frank Jackalone, Senior Field Organizing Manager, Sierra Club

April 12, 2011: Water Quality Fight Update
HB457 goes to the House floor this Thursday (April 14).
Representative Ingram (the bill’s sponsor) has agreed to file an amendment to the bill that will ensure that any county or city can adopt a fertilizer management ordinance stronger than the state model ordinance. The amendment should remove any question of prospective preemption (except for preemption of local sale restrictions after 7/1/11).

March 23, 2011: Water Quality Fight Update
HB 457, a bill that would preempt and gut fertilizer regulation ordinances adopted by 40 local governments throughout Florida, passed this morning in the House Community and Military Affairs Subcommittee by one vote. The 8 to 7 vote count is below (all democrats and two republicans voted no).

Please take time today to call and thank the no votes – it is very important to show our gratitude. This bill has been referred to two additional committees in the House: the Rule-making and Regulations Subcommittee and the State Affairs Committee for additional consideration. The Senate companion bill, SB 606, was approved 4-0 in the Agriculture Committee and has been referred to the Community Affairs, Rules and Budget committees for additional consideration. We will bring you another update when the bill has been scheduled in the next House or Senate Committee. - Frank Jackalone, Senior Field Organizing Manager, Sierra Club

Here is how the Vote went on HB457 3-23-11 in House Community & Military Affairs Subcommittee
  • YES Rep. Ritch Workman, Chair, Melborne.
  • NO Rep. Ed Hooper, V. Chair, Clearwater.
  • NO Rep. Lori Berman, Delray Beach
  • YES Rep. Jeffrey ''Jeff'' Brandes,St. Petersburg
  • NO Rep. Matt Caldwell, Fort Myers
  • NO Rep. Daphne Campbell, Miami Shores
  • YES Rep. Fredrick W. ''Fred'' Costello, DeLand
  • YES Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, Miami
  • YES Rep. Chris Dorworth, Heathrow
  • YES Rep. James ''J.W.'' Grant, Tampa
  • NO Rep. John Patrick Julien, North Miami Beach
  • NO Rep. Mark Pafford, West Palm Beach
  • NO Rep. Scott Randolph, Orlando
  • YES Rep. Ronald ''Doc'' Renuart,Ponte Vedra Beach
  • YES Rep. Jimmie T. Smith, Lecanto

Talking points on nutrient standards:
by David J. Cullen, Sierra Club Lobbyist
  • Localities have already adopted more stringent ordinances than the “model ordinance” and water quality has improved in those areas!
  • Lawns are not agriculture. This is not about food production. But lawns do contribute to nutrient run off.
  • The cost of removing nitrogen from Tampa Bay through storm water treatment projects ranges from $40,000-$200,000 per ton (according to the treatment method used.) Source control is the best (and cheapest) water protection strategy.
  • Nutrient pollution that damages water quality with algal blooms affects these Florida businesses:
    • Florida tourism is a $65.2 billion annual industry that generated 1,007,000 jobs in 2008
    • Fresh and saltwater fishing generated $6.1 billion and 52,945 jobs
    • The commercial fishing industry generated $5.6 billion and 108,695 jobs
  • Lawn care companies can still do business under the more stringent ordinances. They are free to apply iron, magnesium, potassium, compost based fertilizers, etc. during the summer rainy season. They can also do pest control and mow, trim topiaries, etc. These ordinances put no one out of work.
  • Many Florida fertilizer companies already offer “summer safe” products and Florida companies have gone from 2% of the market to between 70 and 90% of the market in areas with summer application bans.
  • The ordinances do NOT affect the sale of, plant material, potting soil, or feeds

March 14, 2011: U.S. Senate tries to pre-empt local clean water work. Senate. Sen. Nelson has not gotten the message that Floridians want water quality standards.

Senator Bill Nelson has joined Republicans in calling for a halt to US EPA efforts for stricter water pollution rules. It would appear he is listening to the industry that pollutes and not the people. He had, in the recent past, pushed for new curbs on nutrient run off from farms, lawns and wastewater treatment systems that fuel algae blooms in Florida waters. Now, he appears to have changed his mind. Senator Marco Rubio is one of the legislators pressing to kill funding for EPA's implementation of new rules, set to take effect next year.

The truth is that new rules would relace existing vague statndards for what is unacceptable levels of pollution in waterways, with specific numeric limits on nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment. Municpalities in Florida were coming around to using such standards to keep the algae bloom from chasing away the tourists from Florida. To keep Florida from moving ahead on this, industry reps have essentially asked the US Congress to stop that progress.

Senator Nelson has written a letter to Lisa Jackson at the EPA, asking to suspend application of the rules. (Read his letter, here.

February 2011 Rooney rider adopted by House - Sen. Bill Nelson key to upcoming Senate vote

On Friday (2/18) night, the Congressman Rooney rider to the Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolution - that would stop EPA from implementing the new freshwater numeric water quality standards - was adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives in a largely party-line vote, 237-189. Only 17 Republicans voted against the rider but 16 Democrats voted for it – three of those Democrats being from Florida (Alcee Hastings, Corrine Brown and Ted Deutch).
Read the story in the Florida Times-Union U.S.House budget vote threatens Florida Clean Water Rule

The Rooney rider was just one of many anti-EPA amendments adopted by the House last weekend and now the battle moves to the Senate.

The opposition is doing everything it can, with many more dollars to spend, to get rid of Florida’s new nutrient pollution limits. Go to this web address to get a glimpse of the opposition’s maneuvers.

Lastly, all are encouraged to send thank you messages to Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (202-225-7931), who made a heroic speech on the House floor against the Rooney rider, and to Representatives Kathy Castor (202- 225-3376), Frederica Wilson (202-225-4506) and Cliff Stearns (202-225-3973), who all voted against the Rooney rider. - Cris Costello,Regional Representative,Sierra Club


Nutrient pollution in Florida is a controversial issue. In 2010 we have concurrently experienced a 100 mile long toxic algae bloom and accompanying fish kill in the St. Johns River, and a full court press from the state’s largest polluters to delay and defeat efforts to meet the Clean Water Act provisions that would prevent such an environmental and economic disaster.

The connection between urban fertilizer management and the lawsuit filed and settled in federal court by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups to require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to impose quantifiable – and enforceable – limits (numeric nutrient criteria) for fertilizer, sewage and animal waste runoff is an important one. The first set of numeric nitrogen and phosphorous limits, those relating to lakes and flowing waters, go into effect November 2010. Florida communities are now looking for the lowest cost alternatives for reducing nutrient loads to area water bodies, both to meet the new criteria and to protect their economic engines from the type of environmental disaster experienced on the St. Johns River.

Strong urban fertilizer management is the least costly of possible alternatives and can be instituted and effective immediately. It is far more cost-effective to prevent nutrient pollution than it is to utilize hundreds of thousands or millions of tax dollars in restoration efforts for impaired waters – the cost of removing nitrogen from water resources runs from $40,000-$200,000 per ton. For this reason, the communities along the southwest gulf coast so devastated by the Red Tide blooms of 2005 were the first in the state to adopt strong fertilizer ordinances.

The cost of meeting the EPA proposed numeric nutrient criteria has been the rallying point for those (utilities, agriculture and industry) who oppose the new standards. However, cities and counties can reduce nutrient pollution at little or no cost by adopting strong urban fertilizer rules.

For example, in 2008 the Tampa Bay Estuary Program established a model fertilizer and landscape ordinance that with 50% compliance would prevent an estimated 30 tons of nitrogen per year from entering Tampa Bay from Hillsborough County alone at a negligible cost; the seasonal sales ban would have acted as enforcement for the application ban. In Tampa Bay, those 30 tons prevented would offset the annual nitrogen discharge from five wastewater treatment plants, thereby saving tax payers dollars spent on waste water treatment.

Download our full paper on Water Quality Standards.

Sierra Club Florida Nutrient Standards Campaign can always use more volunteers. If you want to help out, please contact Cris Costello, Field Organizer - For other questions you can email the

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