Exeter Forges Ahead on the Fertilizer Front

Jeff Barnum

The Healthy Lawns-Clean Water committee in Exeter, NH, is forging ahead with new fertilizer restrictions in the town. Established by the Town and funded by a grant from the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership (PREP), interested folks – myself included – have convened numerous times to give serious thought to how to reduce nitrogen discharge in the stormwater that drains into the Great Bay estuary. Fertilizers contribute to the harmful effects of excess nitrogen, which has been linked to the loss of eelgrass – the essential ecosystem habitat in the Bay.

Exeter has agreed – in an Administrative Order of Consent with the EPA – to build and operate a new sewage plant by the summer of 2018. Not only must the town reduce nitrogen pollution at this major source, the Order of Consent directs the Town to develop a town-wide nitrogen control plan to reduce runoff from other sources, such as stormwater. Exeter’s work on fertilizers restrictions is an important step.

Years ago, Exeter went much further in establishing shoreland protection zones than was originally mandated by state law in the 1991 New Hampshire Shoreland Protection Act. Many streams were excluded by state law, but Exeter wisely chose to include them. The draft zoning ordinance language developed by the Healthy Lawns-Clean Water committee would prohibit the use of fertilizer in both the Town’s Shoreland Protection District and the Aquifer Protection District. Prohibited zones vary from 150- to 300-foot setbacks, depending on the body of water.

The Planning Board will decide on January 14 whether or not to approve the measure for inclusion on Exeter’s town meeting ballot this March. If approved, the zoning amendment will apply to existing and new development. Enforcement for any ordinance is often a challenge. The group feels that public education coupled with buy-in from turf management businesses and outlets for lawn-care products will be key.

Regardless of the ballot question vote, the Healthy Lawns-Clean Water committee is poised to undertake some serious outreach and education. Indeed the group has already started a print and social media campaign. Plans are also in the works for a late-April lawn care symposium – in collaboration with the CLF Great Bay–Piscataqua Waterkeeper.

The serious problem of stormwater pollution will be partly solved by regulation, but it will ultimately take the enthusiastic efforts of committed folks like this group in Exeter.

Exeter’s Healthy Lawns-Clean Water committee at work

Exeter’s Healthy Lawns-Clean Water committee at work.

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