After years of hard work, the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association is pleased to applaud the enactment of the Fertilizer Control Law. With Governor Chris Christie’s signature on January 5, this new law helps restore local waterways choked with phosphorus and makes New Jersey a national leader with the toughest fertilizer law in the country.

Across central New Jersey, many of our rivers and streams are polluted with excess nutrients like phosphorus. Excess nutrients can come from leaking septic and sewer systems, cleaners and detergents, and fertilizers. These problem nutrients find their way into streams when they are carried by rainwater or snowmelt. Too much phosphorus leads to excessive algae growth that suffocates fish and other aquatic animals.

According to the Watershed Association’s “State of the Watershed Report,” 29 of the 31 StreamWatch water quality sites the association tests for phosphorus violate state water quality standards. In addition, 23 of the 26 municipalities within the watershed fail to meet state standards for aquatic life. (Read the report online: www.thewatershed.org/resource-center/reports-and-materials)

Fertilizers are a significant source of phosphorus in our streams, as are leaking sewer lines, and unmaintained septic systems. The Watershed Association advocated for the Fertilizer Control Law for more than three years. We served as part of the multi-industry technical work group that provided the foundation for the law and staff and community support to work with legislative leaders. Here’s how the new law helps restore our local waterways. The new law:

* Eliminates phosphorus in lawn fertilizer used and sold in New Jersey, helping curb excess phosphorus from running off soils already laden with the nutrient.

* Requires that at least 20 percent of the nitrogen in all lawn fertilizers be in “slow release” form. Slow-release nitrogen fertilizes lawns for a longer period and helps keep nitrogen out of waterways.

* Requires lawn care professionals to attend training about appropriate fertilizer application and content.

* Prohibits application of lawn fertilizer when it is raining or when rain is predicted, between November 15 and March 15 for individuals caring for their own laws and December 1 and March 15 each year for professional lawn care providers — when the ground is typically frozen and lawns cannot absorb any of the nutrients.

Certain portions of the Fertilizer Control Law will take two years to implement. To start making a difference today, the Watershed Association recommends waiting until at least March 15 to apply fertilizer, choosing to use phosphorus-free fertilizers that contain slow-release nitrogen, carefully following the application rates formula on the back of the bag, and avoiding fertilizing before it rains.

Another way to help: Purchase phosphate-free dish washing detergents and soaps, and properly maintain your septic system by pumping it every three to five years. To learn more ways to help, the Watershed Association offers a River-Friendly Resident Checklist at www.thewatershed.org/conservation/river-friendly.

How we manage our land has a direct impact on the quality of our water. Smarter lawn care means healthier rivers, lakes, and streams.

Jennifer Coffey is policy director of the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, central New Jersey’s first environmental group.

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