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No one on Marco Island can use fertilizers containing nitrogen or phosphorous from now until Sept. 30. This 'blackout period' is part of a new fertilizer ordinance that City Council approved earlier this year.

The ordinance not only restricts the time period in which fertilizers can be used, but also the amount and type of fertilizer that can be used; applicators can use fertilizer a maximum of four times each year and the fertilizer must contain a minimum of 50 percent slow-release nitrogen.

Council based its ordinance on the Model Ordinance for Florida-Friendly Fertilizer Use, a 'fill-in-the-blank' fertilizer ordinance template for municipalities and cities. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection created the model ordinance as 'a tool … to reduce the impact of nutrients on Florida's surface and groundwaters.'

Nitrogen and phosphorous are two fertilizer nutrients that are particularly dangerous, which is why the ordinance addresses them specifically. According to the Marco Island ordinance, 'overuse and improper application of these nutrients … pollute our treasured natural waters.'

Rhonda Watkins, Collier County's principal environmental specialist, said nitrogen and phosphorous can be especially problematic for the fish population.

'When those nutrients get into the water they can cause algae blooms,' Watkins said, 'which reduces the amount of oxygen in the water which then can cause fish kills.'

Kelly Morgan, Ph.D. — a soil and water scientist with the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences — said Florida's sandy soil only makes the problem worse.

'Unlike clay-based soils, our sandy soil can hold very little nutrients,' Morgan said, 'so the nutrients that aren't absorbed are washed into bodies of water.'

That's part of the reason why the ordinance prohibits fertilizer use during the rainy season. The ordinance also prohibits applicators from applying fertilizer within 10 feet of a watercourse lake, wetland or storm drain. Applicators also have to complete a free Fertilizer Permit Application and submit it to the city.

Councilman Victor Rios was the only City Council member to vote against the ordinance at the March 7 City Council meeting, expressing concern about the permit requirements for single-family homeowners. Rios said cities and counties with similar ordinances do not require permits, and he thought the city was 'insane' for including such a requirement.

'It's overreach by the city and it's not needed,' Rios said at the meeting. 'You get more with a little bit honey with your homeowners rather than imposing on them [and] having them fill out a form.'

The city of Sanibel adopted a similar fertilizer ordinance in 2007. Its blackout period is July through September, and applicators cannot apply fertilizer within 25 feet of waterbodies. The ordinance initially required fertilizers to contain a minimum of 70 percent slow-release nitrogen, but the City Council later reduced it to 50 percent due to a lack of products that met the 70 percent standard.

James Evans, Sanibel's director of natural resources, said the city has conducted a comprehensive nutrient management plan that measures water quality from 2001 to the present. Evans said the study shows that water quality has improved since 2007.

'Inorganic nitrogen and ortho phosphorous were both significantly reduced as a result of the fertilizer ordinance,' Evans said.

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