Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Starting in October, the grass probably won’t be greener in West Palm Beach.

That’s when a proposed ordinance restricting fertilizer use will take effect.

Among other restrictions under the law, grass clippings can’t be blown or swept into the street, where they might wash into storm drains. Fertilizer can’t be applied within 10 feet of any water body, including canals, or when the National Weather Service issues a flood, tropical storm or hurricane warning or watch.

The city commission is expected to vote on the ordinance Aug. 20 but the vote is perfunctory, said David Hanks, the city’s Utilities Director. “It’s pretty much every place in the state has to do this,” Hanks said. “We can’t say ‘no.’”

The new ordinance will require commercial applicators — anyone paid to apply fertilizer — to complete a training program by Jan. 1, 2014 and carry with them “at all times when applying fertilizer” proof that they successfully completed the program. The penalty for a first offense is $250. Second offenses within one year of the first offense carry a $500 fine.

Phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizers commonly used on yards and landscape wash into sewers and canals or leach into the groundwater after rains. The nutrient rich water boosts the growth of plants, which clog canals used for flood protection. Algae blooms and aquatic weeds also smother waterways, killing fish and other wildlife.

Because of these problems, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection made fertilizer restrictions mandatory in the sewer discharge permits it renews for local governments.

The West Palm Beach ordinance fulfills the requirements of sewer discharge permits issued jointly in March 2011 to all towns and cities in Palm Beach County. The permits gives local governments two years to adopt the DEP’s model fertilizer ordinance or enact their own, which must be at least as stringent.

Other communities, especially along Florida’s Gulf Coast, have adopted much stiffer fertilizer laws. There, fertilizer run-off has fueled outbreaks of red tide and slimy green blooms of algae.

“Starting in 2005 along the Gulf Coast, there was not a community and wasn’t hit economically by harmful algae,” said Cris Costello, regional organizing representative for the Sierra Club. “The bottom line: when it starts to impact the local economy and public health, governments say, ‘We have to do something.’”

Manatee County, where red tide has plagued the beaches off Sarasota, has the strictest fertilizer rules. Fertilizers containing phosphorus are completely banned. Fertilizers containing nitrogen can only be applied between Oct. 1 to May 31.

Most communities between Clearwater and Fort Myers have similar rainy season bans but still allow fertilizers containing phosphorus to be used during the dry season. Tampa went so far as to try and ban stores from selling fertilizer during the rainy season. However, that ordinance was overturned in court.

On the East Coast, Martin County enacted a rainy season ban. However, no such ban exists in Palm Beach County.