Friday, June 24, 2011

Tampa City Council Adopts Strongest Urban Fertilizer Rule

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.

Thanks to Marcia Biggs, Chair of the Sierra Club Tampa Bay Group, and Phil Compton for contributing to this story.