NEWS | Aug. 2, 2011

Protect South Carolina's waterways: use fertilizers sparingly

By Larry Galbraith Joint Base Charleston - Weapons Station environmental engineer

Storm drains empty into our lakes, streams, ponds and rivers. So, when we fertilize our lawn we could also be fertilizing vital surface water resources.

While fertilizer is good for our lawn, it's bad for our water. Fertilizer in our waterways causes algae to grow. Algae can form large blooms and use oxygen that fish need to survive. Besides causing fish kills, the algae eventually die and fall to the bottom. As the dead algae decompose, oxygen is removed from the water, further endangering fish and other aquatic life. Over time this accumulation of organic matter can raise the level of the waterway. This can allow land plants to colonize the edges and eventually convert the area to dry land. The end result is the complete loss of a valuable water resource.

What can you do? For starters, sweep up fertilizer and grass clippings left on sidewalks and driveways to keep them from washing into storm drains when it rains. Next, choose a fertilizer with low or no phosphorus. Also, choose an organic fertilizer with slow-release nitrogen. Finally, mow your lawn higher, and let the grass clippings fall back on the lawn. The higher grass promotes root growth and chokes out weeds. The clippings recycle nutrients back into the soil, reducing the need to fertilize.