Mar 28 2013

The Pissing Off of Summer Lawns

Published by at 7:55 am under Cape Cod,Sewers & Nitrogen

Way to go Falmouth. The Cape Cod town that is home to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, one-third of Cape's estuaries, and the state's Alternative Septic System Test Center  wants to restrict lawn fertilizer in an attempt to cut back on the amount of nitrogen flowing into its estuaries; those coastal ponds and embayments that tragically have a tradition of turning colors and killing fish.

Guess who doesn't like the idea?

In this morning's Cape Cod Times, Sean Teehan reports the town is working on a bylaw that:

"...would prohibit nitrogen-containing fertilizer applications between Oct. 16 and April 14 each year. It would ban applications during heavy rain or within 100 feet of water resources and bar applications to turf of more than one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet each year."

Yes, most  of the nitrogen polluting the harbors, bays, coves, coastal rivers and streams of Cape Cod comes from urine, aka wastewater. It also comes from dogs who take dumps during their beach walks, Canada Geese who deposit their green cigar turds, and, most maddeningly, those big ChemLawn trucks with their sloshing tanks that trundle down streets with names like Oceanview and Seaview and then spray their chemical contents all over the lawn of some CEO's starter castle so it will look all lush and green like the back nine at Augusta when Courtney gets married to Alistair this summer.

Opposed to Falmouth's bylaw are:

  • The Massachusetts Association of Lawn Care Professionals
  • The Retailers Association of Massachusetts
  • Scotts Miracle-Gro Co.
  • Assorted local landscapers

They are arguing to the Massachusetts Attorney General that Falmouth's proposed bylaw conflicts with a pending regulation that would let the State Department of Agricultural Resources regulate the stuff. Seems logical to categorize lawn grass as agriculture. I  enjoy tucking into a nice bowl of mower clippings myself.

Unfortunately, it appears Falmouth is pushing for the fertilizer limits so it can discharge some of its effluent from its wastewater treatment plant, a request the state has said no to because the town is already exceeding its nitrogen limits:

"DEP officials granted a discharge permit for Falmouth's wastewater treatment plant on the condition that the town eliminate other sources of nitrogen in the groundwater, Town Counsel Frank Duffy said. They ordered the town to look into controlling fertilizers."

The Cape Cod Commission and every other town on the Cape needs to get a copy of Falmouth's bylaw and enact it from the Sagamore Bridge to the Pilgrim Monument in P-town.  Cleaning up dying harbors and bays seems more important than lush lawns or a green golf courses overlooking floating mats of brown slime and algae.  Wastewater treatment solutions, sewers, composting toilets, and the like may take decades to happen, but banning or cutting back on fertilizer can happen now and make a bit of a dent as well as a strong statement that the Cape can be mended and not written off like Long Island or South Florida.

Last July Falmouth's Little Pond suffered a fish kill when warm weather and eutrophication depleted the oxygen in the salt pond and left a lot of dead striped bass on its shores.  Another fish kill happened in North Falmouth the year before.

Lawn lovers of the Cape, think twice this spring before you load up the SUV with a couple bags of TurfBuilder and spread it over your grass. Embrace the Brown and let it die this summer. Save on your water bills, your back, and your future and just say no to the ChemLawn.

If you want to take care of your lawn, then do it organically. There's a lot of free advice, I'd start with organiclawncare101.com which has an interesting history of the lawn, and how in America, it is a relatively modern phenomenon with roots in Levittown on Long Island:

"In the middle of the 20th century, three overlapping developments helped promote the lawn across North America. The first was Levittown, one of the first cookie-cutter affordable-dwelling suburbs, built between 1948 and 1952 by Abraham Levitt and his sons William and Alfred on Long Island. This was the first American suburb to include lawns already in place when the first tenants took possession (see Levittown: Documents of an Ideal American Suburb).

"The Levitts, who also build subdivisions in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Cape Cod [emphasis mine, ed] , and Puerto Rico (several of them also called Levittown), pioneered the established lawn, which residents were required to keep up but forbidden to fence in. The importance of a neat, weed-free, closely-shorn lawn was promoted intensely in the newsletters that went out to all homeowners in these subdivisions, along with lawn-care advice on how to reach this ideal."

Update:

Some resources on the topic of limiting fertilizer runoff:

Town of Nantucket Regulations: these are proof local municipalities can take some steps to limit landscaping fertilizer impacts. http://www.slideshare.net/savebuzzardsbay/town-of-nantucket-board-of-health-regulations

The Buzzards Bay Coalition has a ton of stuff on the topic: http://www.savebuzzardsbay.org/DecisionMakers 

One response so far

One Response to “The Pissing Off of Summer Lawns”

  1. Rob Moiron 26 Apr 2013 at 9:27 am

    Fertilizer regulations are not new for our Massachusetts coastal communities. The first fertilizer regulation was passed by the Puritans in 1639. They prohibited the use of cod fish or striped bass for fertilizer. Their concern was less for the detriments of nitrogen run-off and more for observations of declining populations of the two best-eating fish at that time.

    Striped bass got the pilgrims through their first winter. By 1639 20,000 pilgrims were avidly weiring rivers, building mill dams and hauling out fish. It would get worst for MA fish 10 -20 years later when the English Revolution would stop English and Welsh fishermen from coming and MA folks would cash in exporting dried cod.

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