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DEC Launches Annual "Look for The Zero" Campaign Urging Homeowners to Purchase Phosphorus-Free Lawn Fertilizer

Encourages Homeowners to Practice Sustainable Lawn Care to Protect State Waterbodies

To protect water quality this spring, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today urged New Yorkers to practice sustainable lawn care and today announced the "Look for the Zero" campaign to encourage homeowners to go phosphorus-free when using lawn fertilizer. More than 100 water bodies in New York State cannot be used or enjoyed due to phosphorus overuse.

"The actions New Yorkers take in their backyards can have a big impact on the environment. By choosing sustainable lawn care homeowners are helping to protect water quality and public health," said Commissioner Basil Seggos. "Excess phosphorous is causing problems in many New York waterbodies, making them unusable for swimming, fishing, or as a source of drinking water. I urge residents to 'Look for the Zero' and buy phosphorous-free fertilizer this spring. By choosing to use sustainable practices, eliminating phosphorus, and reducing pesticide use on lawns, New Yorkers can play an important role in addressing water quality impairments across the state."

DEC first introduced "Look for the Zero" in 2017, and released a public service announcement that shows the effects of fertilizer runoff on New York's waterbodies.

Phosphorus has been the focus of recent Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) summits recently held in four locations throughout New York, as part of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's State of the State initiative to address harmful blue-green algae blooms in New York lakes. The summits brought together community leaders, national and local experts, and state agency officials to develop strategies to address HABs in New York.

New York's nutrient runoff law prohibits the use of phosphorus lawn fertilizers unless a new lawn is being established or a soil test shows that the lawn does not have enough phosphorus. Generally, only newly established lawns or those with poor soil need phosphorus. Phosphorus applied to already existing lawns should not be used and can cause water pollution. Regardless of the location, excess phosphorus from lawns can wash off and pollute lakes and streams, harming fish, pets, or people that use these waters for recreating and a source of revenue for towns that must close beaches or boating areas.

New York State law requires retailers to post signs notifying customers of the terms of the law and to display phosphorus fertilizer separately from phosphorus-free fertilizer. DEC is encouraging consumers to review bag labels for phosphorus content when shopping for fertilizer. Fertilizer labels have three numbers. The number in the middle is the percentage of phosphorus in the product, such as: 22-0-15.

Homeowners are encouraged to practice more sustainable lawn care and to choose native plants and grasses, which are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions. These plant species provide nectar, pollen, and seeds that serve as food for native butterflies, insects, birds, and other animals.

Organic lawn care can easily be implemented on any lawn. Safe and effective alternatives exist for most chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Organic lawn care treatments promote deep root systems, natural photosynthesis, and longer grass growth. Visit DEC's Sustainable Landscaping web page to learn more.

Additional recommendations for sustainable lawn care include spreading a quarter inch of compost on the lawn to improve moisture retention and soil texture and add beneficial microorganisms and nutrients. Another suggestion is to allow grass to grow to three inches and then cut no more than one inch off the top. This is the "one-third" rule and helps to develop a deeper root system, which is a natural defense against weeds, disease and drought. Visit DEC's Lawn Care web page for more information.

DEC also encourages homeowners to leave lawn clippings after mowing to improve the health of the lawn. Grass clippings are 80 percent water and contain two to four percent nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and other nutrients. Leaving clippings also saves homeowners time after mowing and reduces the amount of garbage thrown out. Grass clippings can account for as much as 10 percent of garbage.

DEC has posted a new video to its YouTube channel that shows how phosphorus can run off lawns and enter our waterways. For more information, visit DEC's Lawn Fertilizer web page.

New York's nutrient runoff law does not affect agricultural fertilizer or fertilizer for gardens.

Senator Tom O'Mara, Chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, said, "From combating harmful algal blooms to water quality infrastructure improvements, New York State must continue to cover every base to help protect our waterways and public health overall."

Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Chair of the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee, said, "Nutrient overloading has proven to be harmful to the State's water bodies, many of which serve as drinking water sources for our communities. The 'Look for the Zero' campaign is a good way to continue to educate the public on the easiest ways to mitigate nutrient runoff, one of which is to simply use phosphorus-free fertilizer. By continuing to use less and less high-nutrient lawn fertilizers, we can reduce the need to restrict recreational opportunities and can lower the chances for harmful algal blooms and fishkills."