July 21, 2008

City Ready to Approve Rules on Watering and Fertilizing Enforcement of the Lawn Laws Will Be Difficult, Critics Say.


Rules to control lawn-watering and fertilizer use will probably become the law in Jacksonville next week, but finding a water cop when you need one could be a problem.

At least 12 of the City Council's 18 members voted for the new rules during committee meetings this week.

Mayor John Peyton, who filed twin bills six months ago, has tentatively planned a signing ceremony next week.

The irrigation bill limits lawn-watering to two days a week most of the year, and once a week during late fall and winter. It gives city employees authority to write tickets for violations - a warning the first time, $50 the second time, $250 after that.

The city won't have any new employees to enforce the rules, though, prompting questions about how much effect the measures will have.

"I just think it would be kind of a code enforcement nightmare," said Councilman Clay Yarborough. "We don't have, seemingly, enough staff to enforce the rest of the code."

Yarborough chairs the Public Health and Safety Committee and voted against the watering rules.

The other bill requires people applying fertilizer commercially to have "best management" training to keep them from using too much. Overuse causes nitrogen and phosphorus from the excess fertilizer to wash into creeks and into the St. Johns River.

The bill forbids using fertilizer at the edge of waterways and wetlands and by next year will require "low maintenance" zones with plants that don't need much fertilizing, mowing or watering.

The final effects of the bill have been debated for months by lawn care businesses, environmental activists and others. Critics note that the bill's strongest rules are directed at commercial lawn care, but the great majority of lawn fertilizing is done by non- professionals at their own homes.

Rules for ticketing violators aren't included in the bill.

"If you're asking if the ordinance is a perfect ordinance, no, it's not. However, we need to do something to protect the river," said Harold Jones, a horticulture consultant who retired as Duval County's agricultural extension agent in 2004.

Jones called the rules "a step in the right direction."

Many lawn-care businesses say they already meet or exceed the bill's training standards, and some loudly criticize the bill as ill- planned.

"This is not a science-based ordinance, it is a warm-fuzzy," said Nick Dennis, owner of Pro Lawn Plus on the Southside. "There's absolutely nothing in here that was motivated by the river."

Dennis said he worked for more than a year on statewide legislation governing fertilizer use and will continue pursuing that.

Jacksonville's bill includes requirements for lawn companies to keep records for three years documenting the amount of fertilizer they use, where it's applied and the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus involved.

The bill spells out the amount of fertilizer that can be applied on five different types of grass, but homeowners are effectively exempt because they don't have to keep [email protected], (904) 359-4263WATERING RULE HIGHLIGHTSThe irrigation bill, which would apply only in Jacksonville, includes:- Wednesday and Saturday watering at odd- numbered homes, but only Wednesday during late fall and winter.- Thursday and Sunday watering at even-numbered homes, but only Thursday during late fall and winter.- Tuesday and Friday watering at commercial property, but only Tuesday during late fall and winter.- No limits on watering with reclaimed water.- Automatic sprinkler systems installed since 1991 have to have a rain sensor.

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