Statewide Phosphorus Lawn Fertilizer Ban Now in Effect
With many small lakes and the Rouge River Watershed in Northville, the new law is of particular importance.
Michigan's new restrictions on phosphorus in lawn fertilizer will help protect lakes and streams without sacrificing lush green residential lawns, say backers of the law.
The measure has been signed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm and took affect on Jan. 1. It was passed by the Michigan House and Senate Dec. 12 and makes it illegal to apply phosphorus fertilizer to residential or commercial lawns in most instances.
And in Northville – with many lakes, streams, Johnson Creek and the Rouge River Watershed – it is particularly important.
"These rules help protect our lakes and rivers from being strangled by mats of weeds and nuisance algae blooms – both of which are fueled by the excessive phosphorus that runs off from lawn fertilizers," said Chris Kolb, president of the Michigan Environmental Council.
Northville township supervisor Chip Snider said via e-mail, "The Township has many streams and creeks impacted by this legislation, not to mention the Johnson Creek, Southeast Michigan's only cold water trout stream. Phosphorus acts as a nutrient to excel vegetation growth which eventually steals the oxygen necessary for the fish to flourish."
"This legislation, while innovative, required Township staff to find the necessary resources to carry out the educational and training programs necessary to inform our residents."
Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for plants, but the majority of Michigan lawns have more than enough in the soil. Excess phosphorus runs off into storm drains and creeks where it fuels excessive plant growth in lakes and ponds. That growth can create oxygen-starved "dead zones" where fish and other aquatic creatures can not survive.
The most infamous Great Lakes "dead zone" occurs in shallow parts of Lake Erie where phosphorus contributes to spots at the bottom of the lake where there is little or no dissolved oxygen. Across Michigan, numerous ponds and small lakes become choked with weeds or algae partially as a result of phosphorus runoff. Recent years have seen algae blooms plaguing Great Lakes beaches from Little Traverse Bay to Saginaw Bay.
Michigan joins other Great Lakes states including Minnesota, New York, Wisconsin
and Illinois in restricting phosphorus fertilizer in some applications. Lawn care industry representatives joined environmental groups in support for Michigan's new rules.
"This was an encouraging example of industry, environmental groups and government working together on common sense solutions, said Jeff Fedorchak, vice president of Corporate Government Affairs for the ServiceMaster Company, which owns the TruGreen lawn care company. "Healthy turf and water quality protection were the big winners in this new law."
Lawn care companies also will find it easier to comply with one state law, rather than a patchwork of local ordinances and regulations, said backers.
The law will still allow homeowners to use phosphorus if their lawns need it. Exceptions are included for lawns that test deficient for phosphorus, agricultural operations, newly established lawns, golf courses and other special circumstances. It also encourages buffer strips of vegetation to protect lakes and streams from phosphorus runoff and other pollutants.
In one Michigan watershed, local phosphorus restrictions have shown tangible results.
"We know this approach works," stated Elizabeth Riggs with the Huron River Watershed Council. "Our river monitoring data from the Ann Arbor area shows total phosphorus concentrations have dropped by 30 percent, which correlates with local policies to restrict the use of phosphorus fertilizers and educate the public about the issue." Ann Arbor restricted phosphorus use on lawns in 1997.
The law is the second time the State Legislature targeted phosphorus in recent months. In July, 2010 a ban on the nutrient in dishwashing detergent took effect in Michigan. Phosphorus was phased out of laundry detergents in the mid 1990s.