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Shelter Island activists want limited use of fertilizers

One of the special forums organized by the Water Advisory Committee (WAC) has given rise to an activist group of residents determined to change how fertilizers are used on Shelter Island.

It started with a forum led by WAC member Lisa Shaw, who outlined the lack of information Islanders have about fertilizers and no dedicated Town Code section devoted to fertilizer usage.

At the Nov. 20 WAC meeting, Ms. Shaw spoke briefly about efforts underway by volunteers to create a brochure for property owners about fertilizers and plans to speak with the Town Board about adding language to the Town Code dealing with the issue.

A draft of a six-page brochure is on the town website at shelterislandtown.us under the tab for the Water Advisory Committee. It focuses on how clean water “requires smart fertilizing practices” and deals with nitrogen contamination, noting that runoff from excess use of fertilizers affects the water supply.

Best practices for using fertilizers, according to the Cornell Cooperative Extension, include:

• Testing the soil for pH organic matter and nutrient levels.

• Leaving clippings on the lawn to supply nutrients.

• Mowing lawns at a minimum height of 3 inches to decrease the level of nutrients necessary.

• Managing irrigation, since excessive shallow watering leads to nutrient leaching.

• Using a registered lab to determine the level of nutrients in the soil.

The subcommittee urges:

• Creating a registry of fertilizer applicators trained and licensed to properly handle applications.

• Having septic systems inspected and where necessary, upgraded.

• Learning from communities such as Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket on how they have handled similar challenges to what Shelter Island is facing.