Wave Maker’s News: Being Floridian – A Tale of Fertilizer

This article is excerpted from Wave Maker’s News, our quarterly update on all things water in the Gulf of Mexico, check out the full newsletter here. Red Tide algal bloom. Photo courtesy of NOAA and PJS Franks.In 2004 to 2005, a devastating Red Tide hit Florida’s southwest Gulf coast. Karenia brevis was the culprit; the red tide exploded in size, intensity and duration to create our very own Dead Zone the size of Rhode Island. Other harmful algal blooms (HABs) have shown up since then, most notably the Pyrimodium bahamense HAB that lingered in upper Tampa Bay in 2009 and 2010.These blooms are harmful to fish and marine mammals, and often generate airborne toxins that threaten human health. Furthermore, these HABs can have devastating impacts on coastal economies that rely on a healthy Gulf for tourism and recreation. In recent years, cities and counties up and down the Florida Gulf coast have passed residential fertilizer ordinances in an effort to restrict the excess nitrogen that flows into our waterways and contributes to these devastating HABs. In urban areas, fertilizer use is one the major sources of Dead Zone-causing nitrogen pollution.In 2010, Pinellas County took action to revitalize Florida’s Southwest Gulf Coast waterways when it voted to pass the Residential Landscape & Fertilizer Ordinance, including a June through September point of sale ban on Nitrogen fertilizers. The vetting process for the Pinellas ordinance included four stakeholder meetings held by Tampa Bay Estuary Program, two meetings of the county’s Environmental Science Forum, two preliminary and one final hearing by the Board of County Commissioners.Hundreds of stakeholders spent over two years working together through public workshops and forums to create the residential fertilizer and landscape ordinance that was put in place. These folks included the landscaping and fertilizer industries, various city and county governments, scientists, environmental and other community groups and the Tampa Bay Estuary Program Policy Board.The process was conducted thoughtfully and carefully with the mission to protect our waterways. Along the way we discovered we can protect our wallets with this strategy as well. Every care was taken to avoid a negative impact on those working in the landscaping business. Since passage of the ordinance, the large box stores in Pinellas have embraced the new regulations as providing a clear path in which to educate consumers and frankly, to sell new products. The manufacturers have already begun providing niche summer product lines for southwest Florida – made by Florida companies. Starting in April, the Be Floridian campaign began in earnest in the Tampa Bay area, sponsored by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program – creator of the original model ordinance.Although a state law took effect on July 1, 2011 that would prevent local governments from passing similar ordinances, two local government – Manatee County and Tampa – were able to put ordinances in place to protect their waterways before the deadline. Stayed tuned for part 2 of Being Floridian – A Tale of Fertilizer.Cathy Harrelson is GRN’s Florida Organizer.

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