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WA Lege Day 95: Gregoire signs lawn fertilizer bill

Gov. Chris Gregoire congratulates Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, after signing his bill to restrict lawn fertilizers with phosphorus.

OLYMPIA — Finding fertilizer with phosphorus to spread on lawns in Washington will become difficult by 2013 under law signed Thursday.

As part of the state's ongoing restrictions on phosphorus in commercial household products, the new law discourages homeowners from putting fertilizers with that chemical on healthy lawns. Stores that sell turf fertilizers with phosphorus will be required to have them labeled for use on new or damaged lawns.

It was one of more than a dozen bills signed Thursday by Gov. Chris Gregoire on a wide range of topics.

House Bill 1489, was sponsored by Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, and supported by city officials. It restricts the sale and use of lawn fertilizers with phosphorus in an effort to reduce the amount of that chemical in the state's lakes, streams and rivers, where it contributes to algae growth. Supporters said that phosphorus isn't necessary for healthy lawns and is less likely to be trapped in the soil in those uses, making it more likely to run off with excessive watering or heavy rains, although opponents said phosphorus rarely runs off if applied properly..

The bill doesn't restrict phosphorus in fertilizers for agricultural uses, vegetables or flowers. It's primarily directed at home lawn use, but also covers the use of fertilizers on golf courses.

In the past, the state has restricted phosphorus in laundry detergent and dishwashing detergent. Those actions were usually greeted by complaints from some consumers who said they would drive to Idaho to buy the products they believe do a better job.

In signing the bill, Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed a section that she said would prevent the Department of Agriculture from issuing civil penalties to enforce the law. She also said she was disappointed the bill does not exempt fertilizer with organic materials such as manure. Although they contain phosphorus, using them as fertilizer is a good way to manage waste, she said.

But because the bill doesn't take effect until 2013, she urged Billig and other legislators present for the signing to take that issue up in next year's session. 

Among other bills signed included laws to provide help for homeowners facing foreclosure, to allow wine and beer tasting at farmers markets on a trial basis, to waive the corkage fees at restaurants and to give more flexibilities to local governments to set the terms for planning commissioners.

Phosphorus bans: First detergent, next lawn fertilizer?

.OLYMPIA — Washington, which already has restrictions on laundry and dishwasher detergents, could ban phosphorus in lawn fertilizers.

A bill before the state Senate that would require low- or no-phosphorus fertilizers for lawns – although not for golf courses or on farms – got a series of thumbs up Tuesday from environmental groups and Spokane businesses that included Avista and Inland Empire Paper Company.

SB 6289 was opposed, however, by agriculture groups and landscapers.

Phosphorus can stimulate algae growth in lakes and streams. The city and county of Spokane, as well as other large producers of waste water along the Spokane River like Inland Paper, are under orders to reduce phosphorus. Some phosphorus in lawn fertilizers do not bind with the soil and run off the lawns from watering or rain, the Senate Environment, Water and Energy Committee was told. Storm water runoff is typically not treated by sewage facilities that can remove phosphorus.

“This is critically important in places such as Spokane, which are trying to reach the lowest phosphorus levels in the country,” said Rick Eichstaedt of Spokane Riverkeepers. It’s particularly important for residents along Lake Spokane, where algae blooms every summer, he added.

Heather Hanson, who represents farm groups and landscapers, said phosphorus occurs naturally in the environment, and it’s not possible to separate it from some organic fertilizers. The bill requires expensive soil tests and ties enforcement actions to neighbor complaints, she said.

“Do you really want neighbors complaining about neighbors?” Hanson asked.

State Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane and a bill co-sponsor, noted farmers and landscapers are exempted and wondered about their opposition: “Is this just a general concern, or a love of phosphates?”

Washington banned phosphate laundry detergents in 1993, and began a similar ban on phosphate dishwashing detergents in 2008. The ban started in Spokane, Clark and Whatcom counties, and is scheduled to take effect in the rest of the state this year.
The change in dishwashing detergent has led to complaints from some consumers that the products without phosphorus don’t do as good of a job, and reports of people driving to Idaho or elsewhere outside the county to buy the old detergent.

Eight other states have some type of restriction on phosphorus in fertilize