OLYMPIA – Washington homeowners would be restricted from putting fertilizer with phosphorus on healthy lawns under a bill that passed the House Monday.
Despite complaints from Republicans that homeowners should be able to decide what fertilizer to put on their grass or that restrictions will send grass-growers across the border into Idaho for bootleg lawn spreads, Democrats passed a bill sought by Spokane and other cities seeking to cut down on phosphorus in nearby lakes and streams.
State Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, the bill’s sponsor, said similar restrictions in other states have been successful in lowering phosphorus levels that boost algae growth. The bill allows phosphorus fertilizers for new lawns, restoring dead lawns, for golf courses and for agricultural uses; it requires stores to sell non-phosphorus fertilizer for healthy lawns.
“Phosphorus is necessary in some uses but it is not necessary for a healthy lawn,” Billig said.
Some studies show phosphorus is more likely to be washed off from healthy lawns into storm drains by rain or watering, although the validity of those studies was a bone of contention in Monday’s debate.
Representatives from Eastern Washington dominated much of the debate, with Republicans from suburban and rural areas arguing it was a bad idea. State Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, argued a previous ban on phosphorus in dishwasher detergent sent his constituents across the border to the east. “The folks in Spokane Valley are going to go to Idaho again.”
State Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, agreed, saying the bill should be renamed the Idaho Development of Commerce Act. “We are exporting commerce … for things that sound good.”
State Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, said phosphorus applied properly binds in the roots and is not likely to run off. Algae growth in lakes is the result of many things, including human and animal waste, not just fertilizer.
“The citizens of this state are not idiots,” said state Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches. “My neighbor can adequately figure out how to fertilize his 50-by-100-foot lawn.”
But state Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, said the bill has the support of retailers and cities, and is really about clean water: “If we don’t have drinkable water, we’re not going to have economic growth.”
And lawns will be just as green, said Billig, adding that he’s a part owner of the Spokane Indians baseball team: “We have the nicest patch of grass in all of Eastern Washington. It will be just as nice (after this bill becomes law) as before.”
The bill now goes to the Senate, which passed a similar bill last year.