Keeping Fertilizer Out of the Rivers

Feb 11, 2014 | Agriculture, Citizen Advocacy, Water Policy

It’s an arcane issue and hard to put into kitchen-table English, but let us try…

“It” is phosphorus pollution, a hot topic in the Capitol right now.  The River Alliance pays attention to it because phosphorus is the greatest pollution threat to rivers. As a fertilizer, it does a great job of growing algae.

Cows Crossing River

Most phosphorus in our waters comes from farm fields.  A fairly small portion of the total phosphorus load comes from cities and factories, but phosphorus control rules, passed in 2010, pushed those entities to reduce their phosphorus pollution even more.

Cities and businesses quickly hit a wall with the new requirements. So now they are crafting revisions to the state’s phosphorus rules and peddling those ideas at the Capitol.

Much of the proposed legislation attempts to get these so-called “point source” (pipe) polluters off the hook for controlling all of the phosphorus pollution.  However, they acknowledge that agriculture is the source of most of the problem and their bill proposes to allow cities or industries to offer cash to county conservation offices for projects that reduce phosphorus pollution from farms.

We have urged legislators to add language that would bring more scrutiny to these arrangements between point sources and counties.  The public ought to know if these projects will target the farms causing the most phosphorus pollution and will use the right practices to get there.

If you care about dirt running off farm fields clogging your stream, or you suffer algae blooms at the river or lake you use, you should contact your state Assembly member or state Senator and convey this message (the bills are SB 347 [Senate] and AB 680 [Assembly]:

“Make sure new phosphorus regulations have good accountability. They should ensure that  funds to prevent phosphorus pollution are spent wisely and well.”