June 19, 2008

City Council Should Pass Tougher Rules on Fertilizer


Algal blooms - the nasty stuff that can turn the St. Johns River green, kill fish, suffocate critical vegetation and create a giant, stinking mess - have begun their summer run.

The St. Johns River Water Management District said last week it was monitoring blooms from Lake Harney near Sanford to Doctors Lake in Clay County.

A major cause of the blooms is the fact the river and its tributaries are overloaded with nutrients.

It's no secret where a lot of those nutrients are coming from. One major source is the effluent from sewage treatment plants that is dumped into the river.

In Duval County, we could do a better job of removing nutrients from the wastewater. Utilities in other counties are doing that. JEA needs to get on board.

Another source of the nutrients that are harming our river is fertilizer used on landscaping.

Governments across Florida are passing tough ordinances controlling what kind of fertilizers can be used and their application.

Jacksonville, as usual, is trailing the pack.

The Mayor's Office proposed a solid, tough fertilizer ordinance in early January. It's still languishing in City Council committees.

The Mayor's Office blames the council for the delay. Council members say they have questions that haven't been answered. The Mayor's Office retorts the answers are ready, just ask.

Enough, already. The algal blooms have started again. The St. Johns River needs action, not squabbling.

One council member who has questions is Ronnie Fussell, who takes over as council president next month.

Fussell told me this week that he wants to know what kind of outreach and education efforts are being made to inform homeowners, landscapers and lawn service operators about the proposed rules.

He said he will meet with representatives of the Mayor's Office next Tuesday. Answers to his questions should be easy enough to provide.

Fussell needs to get the ordinance moving through council, which he can do as president.

The proposed ordinance pretty much mirrors recommendations made by the Florida Consumer Fertilizer Task Force, a group that the Legislature assigned the task of finding ways to reduce nutrients from leeching into waterways.

There is nothing radical in either the report the task force delivered to the Legislature in January or the proposed Jacksonville ordinance. They both include a lot of common sense.

Fertilizers should contain slow-release nitrogen and low amounts of phosphorous.

The ordinance would restrict how closely fertilizers can be applied to water bodies.

It also would prohibit the application of fertilizers when heavy rain is expected.

There would be a public education campaign and training for commercial fertilizer application.

If you want to know all of the details, the ordinance number is 2008-28. It can be found on the city's Web site at www.coj.net. Click on City Council and Bill Search.

One of my favorite parts: "No person shall wash, sweep, or blow off grass clippings into storm water drains ... or sidewalks or roadways."

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