Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Do we really need more rules to make us do the right thing?

An article in yesterday's Washington Post reports that a new study by the Environment Maryland  Research and Policy Center "calls on Maryland to consider following other states, such as New York and New Jersey, which recently banned the use of fertilizers with phosphorous…" Basically, the article is saying that home landscapes contribute a lot of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and that "the state" should impose restrictions on what products homeowners can use in their landscapes to help control the problem.

The article contains some great information:

Grassy turf, not farmland, is the most dominant crop in the bay watershed. There were almost 1.3 million acres of planted turf in Maryland in 2009, compared with 1.5 million acres of all other crops, says the study by the Environment Maryland Research and Policy Center. 

Yet it is the least regulated of the state's major crops.  

Pollution in the bay increases when nutrients wash into its waters from snow and rainfall. And many lawn fertilizers have an excess of two problematic nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorous.

And the 33 page report that the article references does have some great information about how our actions, as property owners, affect the water quality of the Bay. It then goes on to  list  recommendations for what changes could be made to regulate fertilizer use in home landscapes. Words such as dictate, ban, require, enforce, and prohibit are used.

 The question that came  to my mind is, do we really want and/or need more laws to get us to do the right thing in our landscapes? Or are we, as property owners, responsible and smart enough to make our own decisions?

My attitude has long been that we each need to take responsibility for our own share of the planet, but I admit that I'm a bit of an idealist.

The article goes on to quote Senator Cardin of Maryland as saying:

“All 17 million of us who live in the watershed need to be part of the restoration effort,” said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin(D-Md.). Not just wastewater facilities, municipalities and farmers, he said, but “homeowners and businesses also need to be part of the solution by reducing the chemicals we put on our lawns and other green spaces.”

The question is, are we responsible enough to make the right decisions on our own? Or do we need to wait for someone to make the decisions for us?

You can download the full 33 page report, Urban Fertilizers and the Chesapeake Bay here. And then you can let me know what you decide to do with your share of the planet.

Other posts about "shoulds" in the garden:

Should anyone else be able to tell you how you "should" garden?

"Shoulding" all over the place

Related article: Scott's to remove phosphorous in fertilizer


  1. Thanks for another interesting post!

    I read that article yesterday, with great interest. Like you, I agree that everyone should take responsibility for his or her own piece of the planet. However, the vast majority of caretakers of those big urban turf spaces simply aren't aware of the problems associated with the Bay, or their own contribution to the problem. And, I'm optimistic enough (like you) that I would hope that, upon being informed of the problems, turf owners would amend their behaviors. But, after working on a research project involving turf fertilization and excess pellets on impervious surfaces, I've realized that regulatory action is probably necessary. And here is why I think that: in discussions with homeowners, and explaining the different problems with the Bay, etc., many were willing to be more mindful of pellets on impervious surfaces, but few were willing to take the steps necessary to a) calculate the appropriate fertilization rate for their lawns, or b) take the time to properly calibrate their home fertilizer spreaders. Over-fertilizing is the result, and just as problematic for the Bay.

    Perhaps the soft-sell approach, like DC's "Bayscaping" program is the best "regulatory" action to reduce turf areas, storm and nutrient runoff, and area requiring fertilizer inputs.

  2. In almost every industry in America, this question has been asked over the last 80 years.

    The unfortunate reality is that in almost all cases (from environmental regulation to food regulation to regulations against corporate monopolies), while voluntary or corporate-led work COULD be more effective and certainly less wasteful and sluggish than regulatory government-led efforts, it simply hasn't been.

    We don't want to it. We don't want to pay more money. We don't want to be billed for it. We don't want to be inconvenienced by volunteering to do it – at the scale that it needs to be done in. In short, Bay watershed residents, as a whole, will not commit to changing their behaviors significantly in a way that would SUBSTANTIALLY improve the Chesapeake Bay. These voluntary efforts have (in my opinion) stopped the Bay from slipping into "Total Failure" but most significant water quality improvements are attributed to MANDATORY sewage upgrades, MANDATORY new requirements for construction practices and urban/suburban stormwater treatment, and MANDATORY regulations on wetland encroachment.

    So, is this new regulation really significant? I don't know. Will it truly benefit the Bay? Not sure of that either. But we've waited a long time for a largely feel-good, voluntary approach to work for the Bay AT A SIGNIFICANT SCALE. It hasn't.

  3. Excellent post!
    Of course we cannot wait for somebody to make decisions for us, it's only us who should take actions. What if the one we are waiting to solve the problems decided to wait for somebody as well?
    The best solution is to gather and start acting right away.


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