Residential Fertilizer Regulations for Cape Cod – What You Need to Know

November 10, 2013, 3:52 pm

For some time now, Cape Cod has been working out a way to regulate the amount of fertilizer (Nitrogen and Phosphorous) used on residential lawns. While the actual amount of fertilizer used on the Cape is somewhat in dispute, the goal of any regulation would be to minimize the aggregate amount of fertilizer that runs off lawns and into local waterways where it has a negative impact on water quality and the Cape’s thriving tourism industry.

For almost all of history in Massachusetts, there had been no laws on the books that regulated the use of fertilizers. The state, in recent years, stepped in and gave the job of regulation to the Department of Agricultural Resources, but left Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard as exceptions to any regulations provided their planning and regulatory committees could create their own reasonable regulations by Jan 1, 2014. As of mid-September, a Cape-wide planning district had been approved, allowing towns to regulate the amount and frequency of residential fertilizer application.  Cape Cod Grass Walk

Towns that aren’t interested in the task regulating fertilizer use can use the default state regulations, which aren’t anticipated until the second-half of 2014. However,  the state regulations might not adequately address the nitrogen issues that are unique to the Cape.

Of course, with anything government-related, there are plenty of questions left to  be answered. Some of the more common ones we’re seeing include:

How will the use of fertilizers be regulated?
Each town will have the opportunity to decide its own limits on fertilizer usage. Those amounts and frequencies will have to be approved by the Cape Cod Commission to ensure some sort of fairness and minimum standards have been met.

If each town enacts different regulations, how will landscapers who service multiple towns be able to comply?
Being able to comply will be far easier than most people think. Calculating the timing and amounts of fertilizer used based on a homeowner’s address can be managed with appropriate software used by landscaping companies. The landscapers we work with are all licensed and apply the appropriate amounts of fertilizer and are ready to continue to do so under any new regulations.

What would stop a homeowner from buying fertilizer at a local Home Depot and applying on their own and potentially violating their town’s regulation?
Not much. In fact, some lawn care companies fear homeowners will be their newest competition. Retailers aren’t forced to track the quantities they sell to residential buyers, leaving the door open for homeowners to violate new regulations in the name of a greener lawn.

What’s the difference between leach fields from a septic tank and residential fertilizer in terms of environmental harm?
This comparison has been referred to as the “sleeping tiger” by some residents. There’s growing evidence that the major threat to waterways on Cape Cod is NOT residential fertilizer, but residential septic systems that leach into the water. One solution that would eliminate ALL water contamination cause by leach fields is the installation of a sewer system. The cost of this has been casually mentioned in the billions of dollars. However, mitigating residential fertilizer runoff into our waterways is still a big step toward keeping our water clean.

As usual, we’ll keep you up-to-date about progress on this issue.

Until more new breaks on this topic, you can read Barnstable County ordinance 13-07 that establishes a fertilizer district for the Cape, here:

Image Credit: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism