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Hillsborough County leaders aim to limit fertilizer use during the rainy season to prevent red tide

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Posted at 4:10 AM, Aug 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-18 07:39:02-04

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Leaders in Hillsborough County are taking the next step in trying to stop future environmental disasters like the spill at Piney Point. Commissioners are looking to regulate fertilizer use during the rainy season.

Hillsborough County has not had any rules about fertilizer use during the rainy season, unlike the City of Tampa and Pinellas County.

County leaders are concerned a lack of regulation could have a negative impact on our environment.

Biologists say excess fertilizer runoff into our waterways can cause high concentrations of nutrients, in particular, nitrogen and phosphorus. That can cause dangerous algae blooms that pollute water and kill plants and animals.

Hillsborough County leaders are drafting an ordinance to would limit fertilizer use from June through November, which is the entirety of hurricane season in Florida. They say this is critical to protecting our waterways and stopping further spills like Piney Point.

"It's important to note that even before this horrific red tide event, Tampa Bay has been suffering from the impacts of nitrogen pollution, which has been getting worse in recent years," said Commissioner Mariella Smith at the August 4 meeting.

According to Smith, Tampa Bay lost more than 5,400 acres of seagrass between 2018 and 2020.

"It is much cheaper and easier to prevent pollution from entering the Bay in the first place than it is to clean up the bay after the damage has been done," Smith said.

Commissioner Harry Cohen, who helped pass a similar ordinance in the City of Tampa as a City Council member, said this is also about bringing visitors to the Tampa Bay area.

"They're also about our tourism economy, which will not be able to recover if the perception remains that our beaches are infested with red tide," Cohen said.

This fertilizer ordinance would not impact any food production gardens in Hillsborough County, ranging from the smallest backyard vegetable garden all the way up to huge agricultural farms or strawberry fields.

Commissioners are hoping to hold a public hearing on this issue at the end of September.