Ordinance limiting fertilizer use aims to keep South Florida waterways healthy

Beginning Sunday, May 15, the start of the rainy season, up until Nov. 1, it will be illegal to use nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer anywhere in Miami-Dade County.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Fertilizers are used to keep lawns green and promote healthy garden growth, but those same fertilizers are deadly to our bays and waterways because they feed algae and kill sea grass.

That’s why beginning Sunday, May 15, the start of the rainy season, up until Nov. 1, it will be illegal to use nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer anywhere in Miami-Dade County.

Typically, lawns will get fertilized four to six times a year.

“When it rains, it rushes right off the soil directly into the bay and it ends up fertilizing the algae which eats all the oxygen which kills our fish,” Miami-Dade Commissioner Eileen Higgins said.

We saw it happen in the summer of 2020, when more than 27,000 marine species died in one week from a dramatic drop in oxygen caused by the hot, over-polluted water in sections of the North Bay.

Miami-Dade fertilizer ordinance (Miami-Dade County)

The executive director of clean water watchdog group Miami Waterkeper, Rachel Silverstein, has long been advocating for a fertilizer ban to help save the bay, which for decades has been being poisoned by deadly nutrients from sewage breaks and septic leaks, dirty storm water and fertilizer runoff coming from local yards, especially when the rain washes it all away before plants and grass can even use it.

“The fish kill was a horrible tragedy for the bay, but it did result in people becoming more aware of the dangers facing Biscayne Bay,” said Silverstein. “So, it’s wasting time and money for you and it’s causing pollution problems for Biscayne Bay.”

In April of last year, Miami-Dade County passed the strongest fertilizer ordinance in the state, sponsored by Higgins.

“Nobody thinks that they are killing the bay when they’re trying to fertilize their lawns, but that’s exactly what happens when we fertilize during the rainy season,” she said.

The ordinance will be enforced come Sunday, and many landscapers and lawn maintenance companies have spent the past year preparing for this.

For Ian Maguire, the co-founder of Plant Health Care Systems of South Florida, it means using alternatives.

“It definitely creates a unique challenge, although we’ve been aware of the ordinance, so we’ve adjusted our methodology,” Maguire said, before showing Local 10 News’ Louis Aguirre what he had come up with. “This is an example of the fertilizer that we developed with our supplier that has no nitrogen or phosphorus, and also has micronutrients to help with the greening of the grass without damaging the bay.”

Chad Moreschi, the President of Natural Resources Organic Pest Control, has stopped using the harmful stuff all together.

“We don’t even use any fertilizers anymore,” he said.

Moreschi’s company uses bio-organics to not only keep lawns looking green, but to also kill pests.

“Actually, this property that we’re on right now, we’re not using any fertilizers, we figured out a formula using biological control and essential oil-based insecticides to give the aesthetic results that residents want without any harmful chemicals,” he explained.

Currently, farms, livestock grazing pastures and golf courses are exempt from complying to the ordinance, but they’re all stakeholders in this most important mission to protect our backyard.

“Golf courses are a key to this fertilizer ordinance,” said Miami-Dade Chief Bay Officer Irela Bague. “They can also play a role as a friend. Biscayne Bay golf course, they’re exempt, but they can go that extra mile and make an effort.”

For those of us who live here in South Florida, making an effort is on all of us.

“I spent a lot of time fishing Biscayne Bay, and I would hate to see any negative impacts as a result of improper fertilization,” said Maguire.

Remember, it is always illegal to fertilize anywhere near the bay, canal, or waterway, or near a storm drain.

Commercial operators that are found violating the ordinance will be fined $500. First time offenses for homeowners will be $50 and then go up from there for repeat offenses.

For more information, visit: https://www.miamidade.gov/global/service.page?Mduid_service=ser1620843942468395

Miami-Dade fertilizer ordinance (Miami-Dade County)

About the Author:

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