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Why Local Fish Kills May Be Your Fault

COMMUNITY CENTERClean Water & WaterwaysYard & LandscapingMar 25, 2015Elizabeth Vaughn

Author: Elizabeth Vaughn

There have been several fish kills in the area recently.  And they may be your fault.

It’s not fun to think that what you do on your own lawn may negatively affect the health and wellbeing of hundreds of animals in our region, not to mention the health of our local waterways.  But it’s true for both waterfront homes and homes that are miles and miles away from the nearest waterway.  The good news is – there’s an easy solution.

Fish kills usually happen because of a drop in dissolved oxygen in the water which we can often trace back to too much fertilizer.  When we use too much fertilizer on our lawns or accidentally sprinkle some on driveways and sidewalks, that excess gets collected in the stormwater after it rains.  The stormwater carries the fertilizer into storm drains and ditches and then directly to ponds, rivers, bays and the ocean.  Just as you expect the fertilizer to make your grass grow, once that fertilizer makes its way to ponds and rivers, it makes algae grow.  You may have seen a green, slimy layer on top of a pond before – that’s algae.  This algae does several detrimental things to the water.  It blocks out sunlight which kills off underwater plants, meaning less oxygen is being released into the water and also there are fewer food sources for fish.  The algae also consume oxygen as they die and decompose.

So how can you make sure you’re not part of the problem?

  • Test Your Soil:  Your yard may not need the fertilizer you’re using.  Different yards require different amounts and different types of nutrients.  Testing your soil first will tell you exactly what you need to bring your soil into perfect balance.  Most localities will provide you with a soil test kit if you ask.  Contact your Cooperative Extension or your locality’s Stormwater Division.
  • Follow Directions Carefully: Once you’ve discovered what your lawn needs, be sure to follow directions for fertilizer application rates.
  • Do Not Fertilize the Driveway: If you accidentally sprinkle fertilizer on the driveway or sidewalk, sweep it back into your lawn.  Otherwise, it’s just the same as dumping that fertilizer directly into our waterways.  Plus, it’s a waste of money!
  • Choose Natural Fertilizers Instead:  This one is great for anyone who wants to save money and time.  Instead of putting down chemical fertilizers, just mulch your grass clippings!  When you mow, remove the bag collector from your mower and just let those clippings fly.  Go over them with the mower a few times to get them very small.  They will release water and nutrients as they break down to naturally fertilize your lawn.  Just be sure you don’t leave those excess clippings on your driveway, sidewalk or piled loosely in the street or ditch because they will then contribute to those algae blooms we’ve been talking about.

We are all connected to our waterways.  Be part of the pollution solution!