It may be doing more harm than you think.
Posted July 23, 2022
Part of being a homeowner is the joy that comes from beautifying one’s home. That may include sprucing up the yard to be our perfect little patch of green space and perhaps the envy of our neighbors. Fertilizer can give your lawn and garden a competitive edge. However, when used in excess, it can pollute the lakes and streams in our community.
This summer [July 2021], I am working with the Buzzards Bay Stormwater Collaborative as an intern through the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. We work with eight Buzzard Bay towns to monitor water quality at stormwater drains and investigate potential pollution sources. The towns use our data to make informed decisions about managing their stormwater and keeping your community healthy.
On rainy days, we go out in the field to sample the water flowing from storm pipes. We hope to see that the water is clean and healthy, but sometimes we find bacteria and chemicals that cause pollution.
The storm drains exist to transport stormwater from our roads and parking lots into storm pipes that empty into the bays, lakes, and streams. When fertilizers and other pollutants enter the stormwater system, they affect the health of beaches and shellfish beds in Buzzards Bay.
You can check our website to find out how to help keep your community’s waters healthy (https://stormwater.buzzardsbay.org/). One pollutant that homeowners can help to reduce is too much fertilizer. Lawn fertilizers contain nitrogen and phosphorus. The chemicals help the grass grow, but the rain washes the extra fertilizer off the lawn and into the street.
Before long, the chemicals get into beach and river water and cause an overgrowth of algae. The overgrown algae blocks sunlight from reaching the aquatic plants and causes sea creatures to starve and die.
However, homeowners have several tools at their disposal to help keep beaches and shellfish beds open. Soil tests are inexpensive and can give you an accurate idea of how much fertilizer is necessary for lawns and gardens. They can help keep you from adding more fertilizer than your yard can absorb, and help you save money on unneeded products and services. It’s best to not use more fertilizer than recommended in the directions. It is also helpful to wait until after rainstorms to use fertilizers. Another option is to try organic fertilizers, or to allow native wild plants to flourish as an alternative to grass. The active ingredients in organic fertilizers are released at a slower pace and pose less of a risk to lakes, bays, and streams.
Individuals can make simple choices that lead to a better life in coastal communities and beyond. We can give families more places to enjoy clean and healthy water and support our shell-fishing industry. To learn about more ways to benefit your community and protect against stormwater pollution, visit https://stormwater.buzzardsbay.org/ and remember before you fertilize: test the soil, check the weather, and try organic!
Written by Berta Grossman, MMA Intern (July 2021)