Miami-Dade County approves tough new law on fertilizer, marking a big win for efforts to save Biscayne Bay

Miami-Dade County has taken a giant step in an attempt to protect fragile Biscayne Bay.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Miami-Dade County taking a giant step to protect fragile Biscayne Bay.

The county approved the toughest fertilizer law in the State of Florida.

The new ordinance bans the use of fertilizers during the rainy season and will hopefully help the bay eventually bounce back to what it once was.

The Miami-Dade County Commission voted 12 to 1, approving the ordinance on a second reading after the impassioned pleas by many residents who understand that fertilizer runoff is one of the main culprits that is killing Biscayne Bay.

“We have the data, we have the science, now it’s time to do the job,” Albert Gomez with Biscayne Bay Health Summit Coalition said during the commission meeting.

Added North Bay Village Vice Mayor Marvin Wallmoth: “Now it’s the bay that needs our help. Excess nutrients in the bay threaten not only our delicate ecosystem but the quality of life for all of Miami.”

The ordinance bans the use of fertilizers during the rainy months, from May 15 through Oct. 31.

Most of the fertilizers that homeowners use on their lawns and plants are slow-releasing, meaning they only work if they stay on, not if they’re washed away by the rain, where deadly nutrients seep into ground water that will essentially poison the bay.

“That’s why it’s dangerous to be doing that during the rainy season,” said Miami-Dade Commissioner Eileen Higgins, a co-sponsor of the ordinance.

It’s a big victory for the environmental watch dog group Miami Waterkeeper, which has lobbied hard for several years to convince municipalities across South Florida to pass similar bans. Seven cities have already done so, and now all of Miami-Dade County is in.

“Biscayne Bay is extraordinarily sensitive to nutrients,” said Rachel Silverstone, Executive Director of Miami Waterkeeper. “When they get into the water, they over fertilize the algae that’s in the water, and they can cause algae blooms and turn clear water cloudy, and that can lead to sea grass die offs and even cause the fish kills we saw last summer.”

The new ordinance also bans the use of fertilizers near storm drains and bodies of water. The only exemption are farmers and golf courses, who must now upgrade their grounds to mitigate the amount of potential fertilizer run off, which is still a huge victory for Biscayne Bay.

“It makes no sense to fertilize during the rainy season,” said Miami-Dade Chief Bay Officer Irela Bague. “Hopefully we’ll be able to measure the result of that.”

The state prohibits the county from banning the sale of fertilizers.

Enforcement will begin in October, giving residents and landscapers time to learn about the new restrictions.

Education will play a big part, as the county is counting on residents wanting to comply, knowing that the health of Biscayne Bay and the local economy depends on it.

About the Author:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.