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Florida Legislature moves to block fertilizer bans

Conservation groups and some state lawmakers are warning that the Florida Legislature's recent move to block seasonal fertilizer bans could hamper local efforts to improve water quality.

Why it matters: The state's waterbodies are already grappling with red tide, a toxic algae bloom known to devastate marine life and repel tourists.

  • Fertilizer runoff is a top contributor to nutrient pollution which stimulates algae, exacerbating blooms and depleting seagrass.

Driving the news: Florida lawmakers tucked a provision into the state budget proposal last weekend that would prevent local officials from banning fertilizers.

Between the lines: The provision, if enacted, only affects counties that haven't imposed a fertilizer restriction yet. It wouldn't impact local officials' ability to enforce existing ordinances that rein in fertilizer use.

  • Hillsborough, Pinellas, Sarasota and Manatee counties, for instance, all have seasonal bans in place. But county officials couldn't amend those ordinances under the proposal.
  • Maya Burke of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program said the restrictions have helped reduce pollution without placing a fiscal burden on counties.

Of note: The prohibition on fertilizer bans would last until the end of the 2023-24 budget year.

  • The Legislature also proposed earmarking about $6 million of the budget for University of Florida researchers to examine the impact of preventing new fertilizer bans.

Zoom out: Florida ranked first in the nation for total acres of lakes deemed too polluted for swimming and aquatic life, according to the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit advocacy organization in Washington, D.C.

  • When looking at polluted estuaries, the state ranked fourth.

What they're saying: "Florida's fertilizer ordinances are a proven and necessary pollution-prevention strategy," state Rep. Lindsay Cross (D-St. Petersburg) said. "This sneak attack will hamstring local communities that have recognized that fertilizer ordinances are cost-effective and work."