Dec. 18, 2012
Lawns across the state are now required to go phosphorous free.
Phase three of New Jersey’s fertilizer law, which bans the use of phosphorous fertilizer in most residential applications, goes into effect on Jan. 5. The law, which was billed as the nation’s most restrictive on nitrogen and phosphorus when it was signed 23 months ago, has required all lawn-care professionals to be trained in a Rutgers University certification program for the last 11 months. A year earlier, it set annual guidelines banning residential fertilizer use from Nov. 15 to March 1 to curtail runoff fueled by frozen grounds.
The regulations are strikingly similar to those adopted by West Milford’s local government in 2007. However, they are expected to have much more impact on eliminating the sale and use of phosphorous-laden fertilizers in the township, the Highlands, and beyond.
According to West Milford Environmental Commission Chairman Stephen Sangle, the local law has been difficult to enforce in the last five years, however thorough it may be. State-level legislation, rather than edicts to restrict the use and/or sale of phosphorous fertilizers town by town, is critical to protecting water quality on both the state and local levels, Sangle said.
"We need legislative mandatory control over fertilizers not containing phosphorous as suppliers do not seem to be willing to carry a variety of fertilizers without oversight and penalties," Sangle said. "I hope the state will be able to enforce the ban with the current budget constraints. That was West Milford’s problem: [the] ‘ability to have the financial ability to enforce.’"
West Milford’s ordinance prohibited the disposal of leaves or other vegetative material on roads or within any lake or storm water drainage system, the application of any fertilizer within 10 feet of a body of water, and the use of phosphorous fertilizer without a soils test demonstrating the need. Exempted was the use of phosphorous fertilizer to reestablish vegetation; in container plantings, flowerbeds, or vegetable gardens; or in liquid or granular form applied directly to the roots.
It also required commercial fertilizer applicators to obtain a "Commercial Fertilizer License" from the Department of Health with a maximum fine of $2,000 for violations.
"West Milford did the best it could with the limited resources it had," Sangle said. "Even though the ordinance was not 100 percent complied with, whatever was accomplished was better than no compliance at all. We did our best and that was a success just from the education aspect."
That aspect, Sangle said, is important to ensure the statewide ban is accepted by the public. It is also one the commission is attempting to highlight through a grant program.
Although it was recently denied funding, commissioners said they will continue to seek grant money to institute a survey of local waterfront property owners’ fertilization habits, associated soil reports, as well as before and after water sampling studies to gauge the impact of fertilizer use on the township waterways.
Sangle said the proposed grant project is an opportunity to prove to residents that "more fertilizer is not always the answer."
"We also could have proven to lake communities that less fertilizer would decrease algae and weeds, therefore reducing the cost of lake treatments," he added. "Besides education, I believe proving financial savings in these tough economic times is another great way to create change."
The state’s law-mandated fertilizer regulations are being phased in to give property owners, lawn-care professionals, as well as major fertilizer manufacturers and their sales affiliates time to adapt and get educated on the pending regulations.
The final step for the sake of protecting water quality will require all fertilizer for nonagricultural use to contain at least 20 percent slow-release nitrogen and entirely no phosphorous without a test-verified need starting in 2013. Golf courses are exempt from the regulations, but must have a certified professional at least manage the fertilizer application.
The state law also prohibits the use of fertilizer during heavy rains or within 25 feet of a body of water, except when using a certified device.