Watershed Nitrogen Control

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Lawn Management- the”low hanging fruit” opportunity for nitrogen control

Over the past six years Wright-Pierce has written extensively about nitrogen impairment of coastal waters and the need for nitrogen control strategies to achieve water quality objectives. One important article addressed "Nitrogen – as the 21st Century Coastal Environment Challenge. To read more about nitrogen challenges, click here.

The three biggest sources of nitrogen imported into watershed include:

  • Food which becomes wastewater discharged to a septic system or public sewer system|
  • Atmospheric nitrogen pollution which gets deposited onto the landscape
  • Fertilizer used for agricultural land and lawn/turf grass care

Of all the sources of nitrogen, the fertilizer used on lawns and turf grass is the nitrogen source most economically reduced and should be a first line strategy for every nitrogen impaired watershed.

The fact is the subdivision house with ¼ acre to 1+ acre lawn is as American as apple pie and as a result of  all those lawns, a huge lawn care industry has emerged offering to help us keep those lawns green. The lawn care industry generally generates more revenue the more nitrogen they sell and most of the companies recommend the average homeowner apply 4 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet of lawn per year. These recommendations are decades old, excessive and uniformed by today’s water quality challenges. If a homeowner has a ½ acre of lawn and apply 4 lbs of N/1000sf/year, they will discharge to their property over twice as much nitrogen as they discharge to their wastewater system.

The good news is there are strategies to significantly reduce the nitrogen used on lawns and many good resources to assist communities and homeowners in this endeavor, such as the Turfgrass Nutrient Management Bulletin B-0100 produced by University of Connecticut (see their recommendations in blue sidebar).

To effectively reduce the nitrogen from lawn management, communities will have to:

  • Educate the public regarding the environmental and cost implications of lawn fertilizers
  • Educate the public regarding lawn care best management practices
  • Modify the perception of what constitutes attractive landscaping
  • Consider regulatory strategies

Wright-Pierce has been at the forefront of integrated watershed management for nitrogen control and is ready to assist your community address this important environmental issue.

Leonard_EdEd Leonard, PE, Wastewater Team Leader II


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