Fertilizer and Water Quality

I have had people tell me they don’t fertilize; they just use MiracleGro. They think it’s a magic product, not a fertilizer. When people use fertilizers that they don’t understand or use too much of a product, there is the possibility of polluting our water system. How does fertilizer affect water quality and our families’ and community’s health?

In Nevada’s arid climate, water is a precious resource. In addition to having enough water for our communities, it is essential that the water be of good quality to support swimming, fishing, drinking, irrigating, and other uses. Our everyday actions affect water quality.

Fertilizers supply nutrients to plants. These nutrients are compounds such as nitrogen and phosphorus that stim­ulate plant growth. Under optimal conditions, nutrients are beneficial and necessary. However, in high concentrations or if they are misapplied, they can become an environmental threat. Nitrogen contamination of drinking water can cause health problems, including “blue baby” syndrome. Having too many nutrients in creeks, ponds or rivers can lead to algal blooms that can reduce water clarity. As the algae die and decay, they can create odors and rob the waters of life-sustaining dissolved oxygen, which in turn can result in fish kills. Nutrients in polluted runoff can come from home lawn and plant care products.

What can you do about this?  Reduce the amount of pesti­cides and fertilizers you apply to your garden and lawn. Read and follow package directions carefully. Apply ONLY what is needed. Another option is when designing your landscape, reduce grass areas and use plants that have low requirements for water, fertilizers and pesticides.

Another way to reduce waste is to compost your yard trimmings. Compost is a valuable soil conditioner that gradually releases nutrients to your lawn and garden. Slow release fertilizers or compost put out small amounts of nutrients so runoff pollution is unlikely. Compost also helps retain moisture in the soil, helping you conserve water.

Or, leave lawn clippings on your lawn so that nutrients in the clippings are recycled back into the lawn. This will reduce the frequency and amount of fertilizers you need to apply and will reduce the yard waste that ends up in the landfill leaching excess nutrients into soil and then water systems.

The choices you make in your landscape or garden can either help prevent water pollution or contribute to it.