Fertilizer application limited in winter to benefit Hernando County waterways

By Kim Leoffler, Reporter
Last Updated: Sunday, December 24, 2017, 5:38 PM EST

Starting on Jan. 1, residents in Hernando County will not be able to apply fertilizer to their own lawns.

  • Hernando residents can't apply fertilizer until March 31
  • Ordinance trying to protect waterways, including the springs
  • Green algae has been plaguing Weeki Wachee Springs

It has to be professionally done from Jan. 1 until March 31. It’s all part of an ordinance to protect the waterways in Hernando County, including the popular Weeki Wachee Springs.

Green algae has been plaguing Weeki Wachee Springs for years.

“It’s not a natural thing to be in the spring and of course when the algae builds up, it does smother and cover the natural fauna that exists within the spring and it kills it off,” said John Athanason with Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.

It’s something Weeki Wachee State Park has been working to remove on their own, with volunteers coming in several times a week to clean the springs and mermaid theater.

Studies by the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection have found high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in Weeki Wachee Springs and in other waterways in the county. That’s what feed the green algae. Those elements are commonly found in fertilizer.

To try to reduce the prevalence of those elements in the water, the county passed a fertilizer ordinance back in 2013 that restricted when and where fertilizer can be applied.

In additions to only using a professional to fertilize your lawn from Jan. 1 to March 31, the ordinance also bans application when a flood, tropical storm, or hurricane watch or warning is in effect, or during periods of heavy rain.

No fertilizer can be used prior to installing sod or in the 30 days after sod is installed, and no home within 10 feet of a spring, pond, stream or wetland can apply fertilizer.  

Workers at Weeki Wachee Springs say the fertilizer restrictions are helpful, although they stress that it will take a lot of time and effort to get rid of all the algae in the water.

“I’ve been here for 16 years, and it’s been pretty constant. But I’ve noticed in the last several years since we’ve been doing the maintenance program, I’ve seen less of it. Not saying it’s not coming in as equal as it has been … anything that will help control the fertilizer from seeping into the aquifer and creating this algae is always a good thing,” Athanason said.  

The state has also required preservation plans to be produced for all springs by July 2018.

You can read more about the ordinance here.