Fertilizer rules will improve water quality Island-wide

Fertilizer rules will improve water quality Island-wide

To the Editor:

This letter makes the case that, however small a step, the upcoming fertilizer regulations will help protect Vineyard waters and lessen the price tag of dealing with the nitrogen problem. Protecting the Vineyard environment and character is consistently viewed as a high priority by 95 percent of year-round and seasonal residents. Protecting drinking water and the quality of water in our coastal ponds tops the list. The fertilizer bylaw coming before town meetings is a great opportunity to add to that protection.

The regulation is the result of a window of opportunity offered by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Agricultural Resources to pass rules tailored to our local conditions and needs. The alternative will be less beneficial rules imposed by the state.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission provided its planning services through the district of critical planning concern process to create identical regulations, to be promulgated by all town boards of health, and hopefully endorsed by voters. The process has been well thought out and is worthy of endorsement. It has been a remarkable joint effort involving elected officials, health agents, local landscapers, golf course managers, the UMass Extension scientists, and many members of the community.

Why bother with lawn fertilizer? Five to 10 percent of the nitrogen that fertilizes our ponds and impairs our shellfish and other natural resources comes from lawns. Regulating lawn fertilizer therefore makes sense and is an inexpensive way to address one piece of our water protection challenge. It will raise public awareness, inform homeowners about best practices for managing their own lawns, and build momentum for tackling the much bigger challenge of dealing with nitrogen from conventional septic systems.

Brendan O’Neill

Executive Director

Vineyard Conservation Society


  1. Not so Fast….This is Not as Simple as it Would Appear!

    I was part of the group that drafted these regulations, and agree with
    the need for, and with most of the content contained within the regs. I do,
    however, have several concerns that I think should be considered by all
    who will be affected by this law before we rush to approve it. These issues were raised during the drafting process, and were supported by UMass extension service personnel. However, much of the science we presented was disregarded, presumably, because it did not fit with the preconceived notions and agendas of some of the other board members. MALCP (Massachusetts Association of Lawn Care Professionals) and all of Massachusetts Agriculture is in agreement with my points.

    NEIWPCC, (New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission,) was commissioned by the 6 New England States Governors to address the issues of Nutrient loading. There were 5 meetings held within New England, and I attended the Rhode Island Meeting. (Where were those who pose this legislation?) These meeting halls were filled with the vast knowledge base comprised of scientists, UMass representatives, Environmentalists, industry reps and professionals. After the meetings were concluded, NEIWPCC changed it’s position and even promoted turf as a “Warrior Against Run-Off.” So, before we adopt this proposed law as the “Savior of Our Ponds” let’s consider the following.

    Why The Proposed Regulations
    Do Not Make Sense.

    How Much Will We Gain…Really
    Nitrates entering our salt ponds and the algae blooms they cause are of grave concern to all. Let’s look at how much we can expect to accomplish by the passing of the proposed turf fertilizer restrictions. As is commonly accepted knowledge, leaching and run-off of fertilizer contributes an estimated 5-15% of the nitrates that enter our watersheds and ponds. The remaining 85-95% is from the leaching of sewage. We are being picked on because we are “The low hanging fruit,” easy to target. Let’s assume that this legislature cuts the amount of our impact by 100%. Even at 100% reduction of input from turf, 85-95% of the problem still exists. As more homes and septic systems are constructed, the negligible gain will soon be overshadowed. Despite all that, I am still in favor of regulation, and more importantly, education. But, the legislature has to make sense.

    Does It?
    The proposed maximum application rate is .5 Lb of Nitrogen per 1000 sq ft with a maximum annual application of 3 Lbs per 1000 sq/ft. There is a substantial and fundamental problem with this. Most “Combination Products” on the market today, (Fertilizers that have a pesticide, usually an herbicide or insecticide, bonded to it, eg Scotts Step Program,) are labeled with an application rate of 1 Lb of Nitrogen per 1000 sq/ft. If you cut the application rate in half, as proposed by this bill, you also reduce the pesticide rate by half. At half labeled rates, most of these applications will be completely ineffective on the targeted pest, and will be effective only in building resistance to the pesticides. (What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.) This will inevitably lead to additional pesticide applications. This legislature, as written, would encourage the irresponsible use of pesticides. This is, perhaps, a more troubling scenario than the nitrogen loading being addressed. The Regulations would also prohibit the use of Corn Gluten at labeled rates. Corn Gluten is the cornerstone of many Organic turf programs and is used to target the emergence of Crabgrass and other weeds. Again, at the proposed rates, it will be completely ineffective. While there is a provision to allow 2 applications per year at a higher .75 Lb per 1000 sq/ft. rate, the specific timing that is being mandated may or may not coincide with the turf manager’s needs on any given property or situation. In fact, the preferred time of year for fall turf repair and feeding typically begins around August 15th. The language in this bill prevents any application over .5 Lbs until Sept 1st. Can someone give me a logical explanation as to the benefits of this restriction?

    The limits that are proposed within the buffer Zone are extremely low and will lead to a thinning of turf in these areas which will increase leaching, run-off and erosion. Exactly the opposite of the goal. Further, many people, homeowners & landscapers, may be unable to properly apply fertilizers at such low volumes.

    The proposed addition of a “Buffer Strip of Native Vegetation” will be less effective at filtering nutrients and contaminates than the turf removed. Agin, this will increase, not decrease the nutrient loading problem.

    The penalty structure, as proposed, is a joke. This thing has no teeth.

    So, what we have is a piece of legislature that attempts to gain broad, voluntary acceptance and adoption. And yet, it does not allow for people to work with products and commonly accepted practices within the industry. It is restrictive beyond what is necessary and more apt to be disregarded by most as Bull&$@#.

    What I Would Propose As An Alternative
    Simplifying the wording, and allowing up to .75 Lb Nitrogen per application while maintaining the 3 Lb per year annual cap would create a flexibility that would more closely satisfy the needs of many, while still achieving a reduction in overall Nitrogen application. It would allow the users of Scott’s or other similar programs to apply all four steps at 3/4 labeled rates. Although this is still not perfect, and still leaves pesticide rates below recommendations, it would be a more responsible rate with a greater chance of delivering results. And, this would satisfy the annual maximum restriction. (4 X .75 = 3.0) It would allow the casual home-owner to make 3 applications per year, (Average number of applications made by the homeowner,) with the total of applied nitrogen at 2.25 Lbs. Far below the limit. It would give the professional turf managers the flexibility to do their jobs effectively and deliver a quality product to their clients while still reducing the total amount of nitrogen applied by at least 25%.

    Require ANYONE, homeowner or professional, that wishes to apply nitrogen within the buffer zone to obtain a license. This is an extremely sensitive area and anyone working within this area should be required to prove some degree of knowledge and proficiency. Delete the requirement to install vegetative buffer strips and allow 2 Lbs.

    And finally, as it will prove difficult or impossible to monitor and enforce this legislature, the penalty structure needs to be such that it becomes somewhat self-policing. The penalty HAS TO outweigh the temptation to “cheat.”

    I think we can do better, and I implore all stakeholders to push for these changes before it becomes a failed piece of legislation…a law we cannot live with.

    Steven Anagnos
    Lawn Care Pros, LLC

    1. I was on the Phone a good part of the day today…I have FULL support from MALCP, (Massachusetts Association of Lawn Care Professionals,) all of Mass Agriculture, and UMass. There are several points in the regulations that are clearly not in line with UMass guidelines or recommended practices. (This was actually a requirement put forth in the Acts of 2012 which gave the Vineyard the opportunity to draft these regs.) I also spoke with senator Wolf this evening, and I believe he may be willing to give us an extension to get this right. PLEASE VOTE NO and let’s give this another look!