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Phosphorus Bans – Valid Legislation or Political Propaganda?


Government Phosphorus Bans

Outline – Phosphorous Bans

Thesis: Many local and state government agencies are implementing the ban of fertilizers

containing Phosphorous as a means to protect our waterways and their ecology.

A. Background Information

a. General Overview of Phosphorous bans

i. Goals of bans

ii. Who and What it effects,

iii. Limitations, exemptions

b. Definitions of scientific terms, principles and ideas

i. Dissolved Phosphorous vs. Non-dissolved (exchangeable vs. extractable)

ii. Algae blooms

c. Eutrophication

1. How P influences it

2. Detrimental effects

B. Research Sites

a. Lauderdale Lakes, WI

i. Study Objectives

ii. Results Overview

b. Ann Arbor, MI

i. Study Objectives
Government Phosphorus Bans

ii. Results Overview


Government Phosphorus Bans

We are all stewards on this earth, with many responsibilities falling on each of us to

contribute. New laws like the ban of Phosphorus fertilizers are often created to help regulate and

improve the various sensitive environmental topics that arise. There are many professionals in

agronomic field s and homeowners alike who don’t understand the reasoning for the ban, who it

affects and what are the limitations. Many local and state government agencies have been

implementing the ban on fertilizers containing Phosphorus as a means to protect our waterways

and their ecology.

Many of these local government bodies define the goals of these Phosphorus ban

ordinances to “City Council finds that certain compounds containing phosphorus, which are

contained in manufactured fertilizer, when used in the City of Ann Arbor, enter into the City’s

and neighboring communities’ water resources, including wetlands and watercourses, resulting

in excessive and accelerated growth of algae and aquatic plants which is detrimental to these

resources..” (City of Ann Arbor; Ordinance Number 01-06; pg. 2;

http://www.a2gov.org/government/publicservices/systems_planning/Environment/Documents/sp

u_env_phosphorus_ordinance_2006-01.pdf) “The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners

finds that Ottawa County’s lakes, rivers and streams are natural assets, which enhance the

environmental, recreational, cultural and economic resources of the area and contribute to the

general health and welfare of the public. The Board further finds that regulating the amount of

nutrients and contaminants, including phosphorus contained in lawn fertilizer, entering the lakes,

rivers and streams of Ottawa County will improve and maintain lake and stream water quality by

reducing algae blooms and the excess growth and spread of other aquatic plants. The Ottawa

County Board of Commissioners finds that unreasonable adverse effects on the environment of

Ottawa County and on the public health of the citizens of Ottawa County and the visitors to
Government Phosphorus Bans

Ottawa County will occur unless this Ordinance is adopted to ban and/ or control the use of lawn

fertilizers containing phosphorus.” (Ottowa County Board of Commissioners, Ordinance

Number 2006-01; pg. 1; http://www.co.ottawa.mi.us/healthcomm/health/pdf/phosphorus.pdf)

These bans apply mostly to primarily turf areas “such as for lawns, golf courses, parks

and cemeteries.” (Ottowa County Board of Commissioners, Ordinance Number 2006-01; pg. 2;

http://www.co.ottawa.mi.us/healthcomm/health/pdf/phosphorus.pdf) Or “General turf means

nonagricultural land managed using turf grasses including but not limited to home lawns,

cemeteries, park areas as well as commercial, school, university and government grounds.”

(City of Ann Arbor; Ordinance Number 01-06; pg. 2;

http://www.a2gov.org/government/publicservices/systems_planning/Environment/Documents/sp

u_env_phosphorus_ordinance_2006-01.pdf) Exemptions are allowed for areas that are not of

sufficient Phosphorus soil levels, or in areas that rely on additional Phosphorus inputs. Examples

of these exemptions are “General turf does not include vegetable and flower gardens, forage

production, sod farms, or other agricultural use. (City of Ann Arbor; Ordinance Number 01-06;

pg. 2, 3;

http://www.a2gov.org/government/publicservices/systems_planning/Environment/Documents/sp

u_env_phosphorus_ordinance_2006-01.pdf) and The restrictions upon the use of lawn fertilizer

under Section 5 of this Ordinance shall not apply to:

(a) Newly established turf or lawn areas during their first growing season.

(b) Turf or lawn areas that soil tests, performed within the past three years by the Michigan State

University Extension Service or other qualified or recognized authority in the area of soil

analysis, confirm are below phosphorus levels established by the Michigan State University
Government Phosphorus Bans

Extension Service. The lawn fertilizer application shall not contain an amount of phosphorus

exceeding the amount and rate of application recommended in the soil test evaluation.

(c) Agricultural uses, vegetable and flower gardens, or application to trees or shrubs.

(d) Yard waste compost, bio-solids or other similar materials that are primarily organic in nature

and are applied to improve the physical condition of the soil. (Ottowa County Board of

Commissioners, Ordinance Number 2006-01; pg. 2;

http://www.co.ottawa.mi.us/healthcomm/health/pdf/phosphorus.pdf)

As we continue to probe the studies to validate these bans, we first need to understand

some basic scientific principles and definitions. The first of these is the ideas of “dissolved

phosphorus and non-dissolved phosphorous” (Garn, H. S. (2002, July). Effects of Lawn

Fertilizer on Nutrient Concentration in Runoff from Lakeshore Lawns, Lauderdale Lakes,

Wisconsin. Retrieved June 19, 2010 pg. 4) This simply means that the dissolved phosphorous

found in the samples can be solubized in the water and available to the plant. Non-dissolved

phosphorus then would be the remaining percentage or parts per million (ppm) found in the

water but not able to be solublized and utilized by the plant. This becomes an important concept

to understand when correlating study findings vs. plant physiology. Harris Labs of Lincoln

Nebraska explain the relationship like this: “Phosphorus is absorbed by the plant directly from

the soil solution, in the forms of H2PO4, HPO4 or PO4. Thus, soil solution phosphorus is

actually the source of phosphorus for plants even though the bulk of the reserve is found in the

soil organic matter and mineral forms.” (Common ground; Phosphorus in turf grasses; Harris

Labs; pg. 1) The U.S. Geological Survey states this: “Dissolved phosphorus in runoff is

important because it is readily for plant growth.” (Garn, H. S. (2002, July). Effects of Lawn
Government Phosphorus Bans

Fertilizer on Nutrient Concentration in Runoff from Lakeshore Lawns, Lauderdale Lakes,

Wisconsin. Retrieved June 19, 2010)

Nearly all news articles, study results and governmental ordinances will make reference

to the term “algae bloom”. The on-line definition or an algal bloom (or algae bloom) by Green

Facts Scientific Board is as follows: “The rapid excessive growth of algae, generally caused by

high nutrient levels and favourable conditions. Can result in deoxygenation of the water mass

when the algae die, leading to the death of aquatic flora and fauna.” (Source: Water resources

Management Practicum 2000 Biology ; http://www.greenfacts.org/glossary/abc/algal-

bloom.htm) These algae blooms support the main argument for the phosphorus ban when you

consider that one pound of phosphorus in a water system can stimulate the growth of 500-750

pounds of algae. This excess phosphorus and increased algae growth speeds up the

eutrophication process which if left un-controlled can cause a water system to age more quickly.

Referencing again the Green Facts Scientific Board’s on-line definition, they define

eutrofication as: The increase in additions of nutrients [especially nitrogen and phosphorus] to

freshwater or marine systems, which leads to increases in plant growth and often to undesirable

changes in ecosystem structure and function. ((Source: Water resources Management Practicum

2000 Biology ; http://www.greenfacts.org/glossary/def/eutrophication.htm) A collaborative

document between the Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program (citizens group), MDEQ, and the

Department of Fish & Wildlife – Michigan State University further define eutrophication as:

“Lake eutrophication is a natural process resulting from the gradual accumulation of nutrients,

increased productivity, and a slow filling in of the lake basin with accumulated sediments, silt,

and muck.” (pg. 5; http://www.deq.state.mi.us/documents/deq-water-lakemonitoring-

00arapp.pdf) The eutrophication process occurs in this manner. When phosphorus enters the
Government Phosphorus Bans

water system, it contributes to excessive algae growth. The algae blooms then create an

abundance of algae on the surface that cuts off light to beneficial aquatic plants that provide

oxygen, natural habitats and food for a variety of marine wildlife. Then decomposing algae then

depletes dissolved oxygen even more creating a decaying ecological site.

There are valid arguments or the Phosphorus bans in addition to the negative effects on

the environment. A recent article in NUVO Newsweekly made this point “Steuben county’s

population rises from roughly 33,00 in the winter to 125,000 during the summer, according to

Steuben County Commissioner Ronald Smith. Most of that is due to the county’s water-based

attractions and lakeside, second-home dwellers.” “’The Point we were trying to make was, water

quality is an extremely important issue in this county,’ he said. ‘I mean our economy is based on

it.’” (Considine, A. (2010, March 11). Letting the algal blooms bloom. Retrieved June 21, 2010)

Another economic implication was cited in a different article by the National Center for

Environmental Reaseach, “The City of Anne Arbor, facing the potential expenditure of more

than $1.5 Million to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant to meet federal phosphourous water

quality standard, passed an ordinance is 206 banning the use of phosphorous containing

fertilizers on lawns.” (EPA STAR Reseach Finds Water Quality Improvement after Fertilizer

Ban. (2010, January 4). Retrieved June 23, 2010) To encourage the ongoing support of these

bans, various research projects have been established.

Two such studies are often referenced by civil groups, environmental agencies and

government bodies when generating support for these bans. The first was conducted by the U.S.

Geological Survey (USGS) in the years 1999 and 2000 from the Lakeshore Lawns vicinity in

Lauderdale Lakes, Wisconsin “to determine the magnitude of nutrient runoff from nearshore

residential lawns surrounding a lake and to determine whether fertilizer application and the type
Government Phosphorus Bans

of fertilizer (regular or nonphosphorus types) affect the amount of nutrients in runoff from

lawns.” (Garn, H. S. (2002, July). Effects of Lawn Fertilizer on Nutrient Concentration in Runoff

from Lakeshore Lawns, Lauderdale Lakes, Wisconsin. Retrieved June 19, 2010) They

referenced a previous study as the basis for the parameters and abstract that “found that surface-

water inflow from the small nearshore contributing drainage area accounted for oly 4 percent of

the water inflow to the lake but represented 51 percent of the total annual phosphorus input from

all sources.” (Garn, H.S., Olsen, D.L., Seidel, T.L., and Rose, W. J., 1996. Hydrology and water

quality of Lauderdale Lakes, Walworth County, Wisconsin, 1993-94: U.S. Geological Survey

Water-Resources Investigations Report 96-4235, 29 p.) One of the main conclusions of this

study was that “Runoff from lawn sites with nonphosphorus fertilizer applications had a median

total phosphorus concentration that was similar to that of unfertilized sites, an indication that

nonphosphorus fertilizer use may be an effective, low-cost practice for reducing phosphorus in

runoff.” ((Garn, H. S. (2002, July). Effects of Lawn Fertilizer on Nutrient Concentration in

Runoff from Lakeshore Lawns, Lauderdale Lakes, Wisconsin. Retrieved June 19, 2010)

Another study that shows important evidence to support these bans was conducted by the

University of Michigan along the Huron River in the city of Ann Arbor. These studies which

were conducted in 2008 and 2009, came about as the result of a phone call between Matt Naud

the Ann Arbor environmental coordinator and John Lehman, professor or ecology and

evolutionary biology at U-M. To begin this study, “Lehman was in and ideal position to assess

the effectiveness of the Ann Arbor ordinance because he and undergraduate student Julie Ferris

were already studying nutrient levels in the Huron River and two downstream lakes, Ford Lakes

and Belleville Lake, for a different research project.” (Water Quality Improves After Lawn

Fertilizer Ban, Study Shows.. (2009, August). Retrieved June 21, 2010) Their research in the
Government Phosphorus Bans

first year showed “that phosphorus levels in the Huron River dropped an average of 28 percent.”

(Water Quality Improves After Lawn Fertilizer Ban, Study Shows.. (2009, August). Retrieved

June 21, 2010) Some his findings in the second year of the study showed that “After two years

of post-fertilizer ordinance data collection, concentrations of TP in the Huron River measured at

stations B and F are 17% lower than pre-ordinance reference levels.” Another point he showed in

his discussion was the amount of overall changes in all his test plots. “Decreasing concentrations

of TP were evident at all experimental sites (A, B and F) from May to Sep (Fig. 4). Reductions at

station B, just upstream from the AAWWTP outfall, were consistently statistically significant.

Station B receives considerably more cumulative drainage from Ann Arbor than does station A,

and may therefore be more responsive. The average reduction in concentration at station B was

17%. “ (

Many state governments are now looking to the foundation laid by the various local

governmental agencies, universities and civil groups. These resources will become an invaluable

tool toward protecting our resources. As community education resources grow, it is hopeful that

the awareness about the detrimental effects of phosphorus in our water systems will grow and

continue to gain advocates for their protection.


Government Phosphorus Bans

References

Barber, S. A. (1995). Soil Nutrient Bioavailability: A Mechanistic Approach (Second Edition


ed. , pp. 202-230). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Garn, H. S. (2002, July). Effects of Lawn Fertilizer on Nutrient Concentration in Runoff from
Lakeshore Lawns, Lauderdale Lakes, Wisconsin. Retrieved June 19, 2010

Water Quality Improves After Lawn Fertilizer Ban, Study Shows.. (2009, August). Retrieved
June 21, 2010

Considine, A. (2010, March 11). Letting the algal blooms bloom. Retrieved June 21, 2010

Lake George Waterkeeper. (n.d.). Fertilizing Your Lawn also Fertilizes Aquatic Plants and
Algae in Lake George: Lake George Fact Sheet 7. Retrieved June 23, 2010

EPA STAR Reseach Finds Water Quality Improvement after Fertilizer Ban. (2010, January 4).
Retrieved June 23, 2010