Seal of Dane County County of Dane
County Executive's Office

Dane County Lakes and Watershed Commission Schedules Hearing on Proposed Ordinance to Restrict Phosphorus in Lawn Fertilizers

December 01, 2003
Sue Jones (608) 267-0118 Sharyn Wisniewski (608) 267-8823
County Executive

The Dane County Lakes and Watershed Commission will hold a public hearing on a draft county-wide ordinance to restrict the application and retail display of phosphorus-containing lawn fertilizer, on Thursday December 11, at 6:30 pm in Courtroom 2E, City-County Building, 210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd, in Madison. "We can have green lawns without green lakes,” said Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk. “Our lakes are key factors in our quality of life in Dane County. That's why I asked the Lakes and Watershed Commission to develop this ordinance. Reducing phosphorus runoff from lawns, in combination with other steps outlined in our watershed and resource management plans, can lead to a significant decrease in the number of nuisance algae blooms. In short, this ordinance can help us have clearer, healthier, more enjoyable lakes." Shary Bisgard, Chair of the Dane County Lakes and Watershed Commission, said, ”We've asked for and received input from technical experts and retailers to give us, and citizens, a good foundation to evaluate the benefits of restricting phosphorus in lawn fertilizer, and in understanding its potential impact on retailers. We are seeking public input before completing this ordinance and introducing it to the County Board." County Board Supervisor Andy Olsen, a member of the Lakes and Watershed Commission, said, "In order to help improve lake water quality, Dane County already restricts its own use of phosphorus-containing fertilizer on county-owned properties. We have already accomplished a great deal in controlling many other agricultural and urban sources of phosphorus. We cannot afford to pass up any opportunities to reduce phosphorus pollution to our lakes and streams. Now, we look forward to hearing from citizens on our proposal to restrict unnecessary application and sale of phosphorus-containing lawn fertilizer, and let phosphorus be used only where it's needed." Rainwater runoff from lawns treated with fertilizers flows to storm drainage systems and into the lakes where the phosphorus from many sources causes excessive algae growth, and decreases water clarity, often turning lakes green. Decaying algae also depletes oxygen in the water, so that fish can no longer thrive. The draft county ordinance prohibits application of lawn and turf fertilizer containing phosphorus within Dane County, with exemptions for the following situations: 1) newly-established lawns during the first growing season, 2) existing lawns where soil tests show that phosphorus is needed, 3) agricultural uses and vegetable and flower gardens, and 4) use of natural or organic fertilizing products such as yard waste compost. The ordinance as drafted applies to golf courses, use by commercial applicators on lawns, as well as use by individual residents on their lawns. Under the draft ordinance, small quantities of phosphorus-containing fertilizer could be sold within Dane County in order to provide these products for citizens who could legally use them. However, the draft ordinance restricts displays of lawn fertilizers containing phosphorus to 25% of all lawn fertilizer on display at any given time. At the Dane County Lakes and Watershed Commission web site (, citizens can view a copy of a draft proposed ordinance, read expert input, and provide comments online (by December 18) on the draft ordinance. # # #