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Hernando looks at fertilizer rules to protect springs

BROOKSVILLE — The County Commission on Tuesday moved toward adopting a fertilizer ordinance that will regulate companies and residents seeking to green up lawns and gardens.

The commission voted unanimously to order staffers to bring back an ordinance that could be considered at a future public hearing.

The ordinance is required by the state because last May the county opted out of another requirement — residential septic tank inspections in counties with a first magnitude spring.

These inspections were designed to ensure that the tanks' nitrogen-rich contents were not leeching into the groundwater.

A working group of government officials formed after the vote in May and recently reported to the board that the Weeki Wachee Springs system is adapted to a very low level of nutrients such as nitrogen. Even a small increase can spark algae growth.

Because of the levels of nutrients present in the Weeki Wachee system, the state has termed the system an "impaired water body.'' Most of the nitrogen found in the system comes from inorganic fertilizer. Septic tanks are a secondary source, staff told commissioners.

The discussion comes just after the publication of a National Geographic story about the global environmental degradation caused by the over-use of nitrogen fertilizers.

One of the accompanying photographs showed a Weeki Wachee mermaid swimming in a spring where algae fed by nitrogen crowds out native springs plants.

The proposed ordinance, which is based on a state model, is designed to accomplish two things, county planner Patricia McNeese told the commissioners: track the applicators and raise awareness of the environmental impact of fertilizer use.

The proposed regulations would prohibit fertilizer applications near bodies of water, before heavy rains, during a "blackout" period — likely January through March — and prior to or immediately after seeding and sodding.

Fertilizer would have to be applied at rates which strictly followed state rules, and commercial applicators would need to be certified after training, McNeese said.

The first year after the establishment of the ordinance would be spent educating people about the rules and the county would not issue citations, she said.

Commission Chairman Dave Russell said that he didn't see the rules as "overbearing or egregious" and he could support them as "a good first step.''

Commissioner Wayne Dukes, who lives on the water, said he wanted to talk further with McNeese on rules that would be workable in waterfront areas.

"I just think we ought to take a look at the big picture,'' said Commissioner Diane Rowden, who supported making the ordinance stricter.

At the other end of the spectrum, Commissioner Nick Nicholson called the measure "a feel good ordinance, but we can't enforce this. … I think the whole thing is absurd.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando looks at fertilizer rules to protect springs 05/07/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 6:58pm]
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