As many of you know, a law has been proposed in Albany that would mandate that lawn fertilizer contain no more than 12% nitrogen in the bag, and at least 50% non-soluble (slow release) nitrogen. With at least 10% of the nitrogen in the bay coming from lawn fertilizers, we have to do something. New York State is spending billions on modern wastewater infrastructure on Long Island to remove nitrogen. It seems absurd then that we permit high concentrations of nitrogen, which not only contaminates our groundwater, but also our drinking water.

The bill is cosponsored by Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) in the State Assembly, and by Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City) in the Senate. Today’s Newsday reports, however, that Mr. Hannon is now calling for more time to study the matter.

From Newsday:

Sen. Kemp Hannon said state legislators need to take action to reduce nitrogen-fueled water pollution on the Island. But a proposal to prohibit certain types of fertilizer widely used for greening lawns, which has been gaining momentum quickly in the State Legislature, “turns out to be a lot more complicated than” first thought, the senator said.

The fertilizer industry has a lot of experience beating back legislation around the country that would require them to change their practices. Kemp Hannon needs to hear from his constituents in Central Nassau, District 6

Here’s how you contact him:

The Capitol – Room 420
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: 518-455-2200

595 Stewart Ave., Suite, 540
Garden City, NY 11530
Phone: 516-739-1700
[email protected]


“We obviously have a problem with nitrogen and we need to address it,” Hannon (R-Garden City) said at the State Capitol. “But others are telling us, ‘Look, if you do a ban on fertilizers, you’re not addressing the whole problem.’ ”

Note this is not a ‘ban’ but a requirement to reformulate. And the law was drafted narrowly to address this one issue. The ‘whole problem’ is monumental. Excess nitrogen has been an issue we and virtually every environmental org on Long Island has been confronting on a daily basis for years.   Long Island is in the midst of the biggest environmental crisis no one’s heard about, the 500,000 cesspools and septic tanks seeping nitrogen into our groundwater, triggering massive algal blooms that are killing all the bays on Long Island while also contaminating our drinking water with excess nitrogen. Billions are being allocated to build sewers and roll out cesspool replacements. Why, when we know that lawn fertilizers are contributing to this ecological collapse should we not be cutting back on nitrogen content? We need to do what we can at the moment, not let the shear size of the problem prevent any action.

Whether or not this law passes, it is the mission of Save The Great South Bay to revitalize the bay by ‘Going Native’ and “Going Naked.” For the first 10,000 or so years of Long Island’s existence, it was impossibly, indescribably beautiful, and that was without a thimble of fertilizer or a spritz of pesticides. Save The Great South Bay’s position is that we should give up on nitrogenous fertilizer altogether and reintroduce native plants across Long Island, with people planting “bay friendly yards” that would help filter our groundwater before it reaches the bay, as well as “swamp forests” along all our creeks.

The bays are but symptoms. It’s the mainland that is sick. If we restore native ecosystems through strategic plantings to ‘crowd out’ invasives like phragmites, the water that flows into our bays whether as surface water or groundwater will be cleaner. Such plantings, because they are native, don’t need all the artificial care we give to the non-natives — all the fertilizer, pesticides, all the water. Cheaper, more beautiful, and good for the environment. What’s not to like?

For those who want a bright green lawn, there will still be chemical fertilizers at hand, not that you really need them. But there is a responsibility to “The Commons,” to “The Greater Good.” We all own the bay.

Or rather, we all need to be its stewards.

To allow the lobbyists to once again squelch a vote would be disappointing. But there’s a growing demand for native plantings, and we will be busy working with every South Shore community to help restore our creeks and their watersheds and with that present Long Islanders with what was and what will be again.

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