How bad has the red tide outbreak been? Bad enough that increased state funding for it became Venice’s No. 1 legislative priority this year after not being on last year’s list.
Or the one before that. Or the one before that. Or ....
But securing funding for research is part of a long-range, maybe only wished-for red tide cure. Short-term, the city is pinning its hopes on encouraging residents not to use fertilizer and developing ways to monitor the outfalls from its stormwater system into the Gulf.
The City Council voted at a special meeting last month to have staff explore a program for monitoring the outfalls — and to identify funding sources to pay for it. It affirmed that directive Tuesday.
But it also took a step some residents urged then and in emails leading up to Tuesday’s meeting: a resolution urging that property owners not fertilize their lawn at all.
Currently, the city operates under a county ordinance, which it also adopted, that has a four-month “blackout” period, from June 1 to Sept. 30, during which most fertilizer application is banned.
After a scientist from Mote Marine Laboratory told the Council members at the special meeting that reducing the nutrients in the stormwater that makes its way into the Gulf would decrease the food that feeds red tide blooms, the idea of further reducing fertilizer use gained steam.
State law precludes the city from imposing a ban but not from encouraging people not to fertilize.
The resolution “encourages all persons, businesses, associations, clubs, and/or organizations” to discontinue the use of fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorus or both, year-round.
The two elements are believed to nourish red tide algae and aggravate blooms when they occur close to shore.
Vice Mayor Bob Daniels called the resolution “a very substantial and great first step.”
Council Member Rich Cautero noted that encouragement, rather than a ban, had been successful in reducing the use of cigarettes and plastic.
“There are more unknowns than there are knowns,” he said, but at least the resolution would start the ball rolling.
Those unknowns kept Council Member Jeanette Gates from backing it.
Council members got several hundred emails about the resolution with opinion on it split about 50-50, she said.
Instead of just targeting fertilizer, she said, the city needs a more comprehensive approach. It should put more emphasis on education, getting a monitoring program started and enforcing the current ordinance, among other things, she said.
The resolution might be a feel-good measure, but the city didn’t have any science to support it, she said.
Holic agreed that the resolution wasn’t all-inclusive, “but it’s a step,” he said. The city can always take more actions later, he added.
Industry professionals agreed with Gates.
Todd Josko, with TruGreen, said he was glad to see the city wasn’t trying to ban fertilizer use but questioned trying to make the blackout period year-round even though it would be voluntary.
The Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Agriculture, the state’s water management districts and the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida all agree that blackout periods are ineffective, if not actually harmful, he said.
Grass is the best type of barrier against runoff, he said. Not fertilizing appropriately weakens that defense.
“What you really want to do is change behavior,” he said: teach people not to overfertilize; not to get fertilizer on impermeable surfaces, where it will wash away; and not to put vegetative matter that has chemicals on it into the stormwater system.
The resolution passed 6-1, with Gates voting against it.