Fertilizer bans, used by municipalities to curb harmful nutrient pollution, may face restrictions to facilitate a study by UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Services.
There are some bad ideas floating around in the pages of Florida’s annual budget, up for vote Friday as the state legislative session draws to a close. Those proposals could impact our state’s water quality when it comes to nutrient pollution.
A future fertilizer study for the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS)—earmarked within the $117 billion proposed state budget—now comes with some conditional language in the budget’s “implementing” bill. That conditional language would limit municipal control over fertilizer ordinances for at least the next year.
Many counties and cities throughout Florida enact fertilizer restrictions or bans during the rainy summer season (~June-October) to reduce their negative impact on waterways and prevent nutrient pollution from intensifying harmful algal blooms, like red tide and blue-green algae. Common sense says they’re a very good idea for our waters.
This proposed study by IFAS is intended to “evaluate the effectiveness of the timing of seasonal fertilizer restrictions on urban landscapes toward achieving nutrient target objectives for waterbodies statewide,” according to the budget. IFAS, an institution backed by significant fertilizer and phosphate industry support, is essentially saying they want to see if the fertilizer bans are working. Hmm, I wonder why?
They intend to conduct the study this rainy season and would be required to submit their report by the end of this year. We can’t predict the future, but considering the research institute involved and the industry likely in the background, we’re highly doubtful that their report will say anything other than, “The fertilizer bans aren’t effective—let’s totally not do them anymore.”
Now, in order to conduct the study, some new requirements surfaced Sunday night in the implementing bill that accompanies the budget. Tucked into the final offer of the implementing bill are provisions that force a moratorium on fertilizer ordinances by municipalities.
Those provisions direct that “a county or municipal government may not adopt or amend a fertilizer management ordinance […] not in existence on June 30, 2023.” That section would expire July of next year, so it’s basically preventing: 1. any municipalities without existing ordinances from adopting a ban during the study; and 2. any municipalities with existing restrictions from amending theirs during the study.
There are 117 municipalities in Florida that already have locally restrictive fertilizer ordinances during the rainy season, so according to the bill language, those should all still be permitted. But what if a city wants to adopt a new ban? Or what if a county with an existing ordinance wants to step up their game and make it even more restrictive to improve water quality? With this bill section passed, neither of those would be permissible.
That conditional section is certainly not a good proposition. An exact measure of its direct impact on our waters is hard to predict (considering many municipalities do have bans on the books and the prohibitive period is only for one season), but it’s definitely not ideal, and it goes against all common sense.
That’s the short-term problem, but the real threat (we suspect) lies within the long-term problem: the study itself. Why this study is being conducted, the entities behind it, and what will be done with the “findings” are all of concern for the long-term health of our waterways.
We suspect this study will be used to establish more permanent limitations on local-level fertilizer management, thereby facilitating more prolific use of fertilizer statewide. Good for the fertilizer industry’s bottom dollar, bad for water quality.
Bottom line, we’re very much opposed to these bill items. We’re still working through the overall budget, the implications of this language, and what—if anything—can be done to ensure these bad ideas don’t lead to bad water policies.
But in the meantime, we’ll keep you updated and informed, and we’ll let you know if we need you to use your voice on this issue. Stay tuned.