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Phosphorus fertilizer ban may stop spread of blue-green algae

A watershed alliance within the city is hoping their plan to restrict phosphorus based fertilizer will be passed before citizens start purchasing lawn care products.
A watershed alliance within the city is hoping their plan to restrict phosphorus based fertilizer will be passed before citizens start purchasing lawn care products.

The Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance is planning to make a presentation to the Greater Sudbury policy committee within the next month, and propose the city ban phosphorus based fertilizer.

Stephen Butcher, a member of the Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance and chair of the Long Lake Stewardship, said the ban would stop the spread of blue-green algae in area lakes. He said he first heard about the problem in 2008 when blue-green algae appeared in Long Lake.

“So we (the Long Lake Stewardship) invited a Laurentian University professor Dr. Charles Ramcharan to speak to our lake stewardship and he listed a series of things that we have to do to correct the problem number one being we’ve got to get rid of the phosphates going into the lake,” he said. “It’s the trigger that causes blue-green algae.”

From there, Butcher helped to form the Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance which is complied of all the lake stewardships in the Greater Sudbury area.

Butcher said there are two groups in Greater Sudbury working to protect drinking water — The Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance and the Drinking Water Source Protection Committee. He said the Greater Sudbury Watershed was formed to look at the lakes the Drinking Water Source Protection doesn’t, as that group focuses on municipal water sources and not individual sources.

“There’s 20,000 of us out there with out own water sources that they can’t address,” he said. “That 20,000 are the most vulnerable group because we don’t have a multi-million dollar water filtration equipment system protecting our water, we just have individual systems which really can’t address the blue-green algae problem.”

Blue-green algae contains toxins that impact the health of humans and animals. Liver cells can be damaged as a result of consuming water contaminated with blue-green algae.

Lilly Noble, co-chair of the Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance, made a presentation about the proposed ban at the Lakes Advisory Panel meeting on April 7.

She said the group is only interested in banning lawn fertilizer that contains phosphorous.

“It’s lawn fertilizer only,” she said. “It’s not going to affect vegetable gardens or flower beds or tree planting.”

Noble said an education campaign would help citizens purchase products that would still benefit their property and protect water sources, but said education alone won’t be enough to fix the problem.

“The two together really get the biggest bang for your buck,” she said. “Education only gives you 30 per cent compliance because you just don’t hit everybody or people don’t think that their lawn affects a lake because it’s five blocks away but their storm-water still goes directly into those lakes.”

Noble also said if citizens are getting ready to purchase fertilizer for their lawns, that there are plenty of options available to buy in Greater Sudbury that don’t contain phosphorous. “If you’re going to fertilize, probably a soil test should be done first because you may not need any type of fertilizer,” she said. “If you do a soil test, you’ll probably find you don’t need phosphorous.”

Butcher also said slow-release fertilizers are a better choice for fertilizing lawns. “The spray-on ones (fertilizers) are very bad,” he said. “They wash off almost immediately whereas the slow-release (fertilizers) tends to sink in.”

Noble said other areas, including the province of Manitoba have restrictions in place regarding fertilizer use near water sources.

She said as Greater Sudbury is the “city of lakes,” it’s important they be protected. “We don’t want to be the city of polluted lakes,” she said. “We want to be the city of clean, swimable, boatable, fishable, enjoyable lakes.”