City councillor says fish threatened by overuse of fertilizers

A long time city councillor is concerned with the impact fertilizers are having on lakes in the HRM.

Nutri-Lawn worker spreads fertilizer on an HRM lawn. (James Jenkinson photo)

By James Jenkinson

Gloria McCluskey is concerned with the state of lakes in HRM. More specifically, the longtime city councillor says she’s worried that phosphorous from fertilizers across the city is seeping into the waterways, damaging the fish population and making the waters less attractive for the rest of us.

“I’ve received many complaints from citizens regarding the quality of our lakes with Lake Banook and Micmac in particular experiencing serious weed problems. Lake Banook is a world class paddling course and the weeds are detrimental to the racers,” McCluskey says.

On McCluskey’s request, municipal staff are studying the effects of a ban on phosphorous-based fertilizers in the HRM. She hopes the report will answer the question of whether such fertilizers should be banned, how they would be monitored, and what the implications of such legislation would be.

Although McCluskey is certain that “we must protect our lakes and waterways”, she doesn’t think another councillor was sold on the proposed ban.

“Councillor (Stephen) Adams questioned the proposal and sounded like he wouldn’t support it,” McCluskey says. “There was no comment from the other councillors but I am hopeful that staff will support this and that council will come on side.”

Phosphorus, like nitrogen and oxygen, is an essential nutrient for plant growth. However, after extended use these nutrients can seep into the waterways through sewage systems or run-off. According to the Connecticut-based Office of Legislative Research report on laws banning phosphorus use, “high concentrations of phosphorus or nitrogen in water bodies can lead to excessive algae and aquatic plant growth.” The report goes on to say that these nutrients can “reduce water clarity and deplete oxygen levels that can stress or kill fish and other aquatic animals.”

Lawn maintenance’s side of the story

Nutri-Lawn, a lawn care company operating in HRM, says they “use a very small amount of phosphorus in [their] lawn care programs.” However, General Manager Steve Smith says phosphorus is sometimes required in the lawn maintenance process.

“In some cases there is not enough naturally available phosphorus for turf grass to thrive so a fertilizer higher in phosphorus is applied to correct this deficiency,” Smith says.

Smith believes that council’s report should consider all phosphorus producers around HRM, not solely lawn care providers.

McClusky hopes the staff report will be available within a few months.