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updated: 3/1/2011 5:13 PM

Wauconda committee won't ban some fertilizer

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By C.L. Waller

Rather than approve a new zero phosphorous ordinance that is not enforceable, Wauconda village officials will provide information this fall to residents about how the fertilizer can cause weed growth in lakes.

"We're hoping that educating the public is indeed the way to go," said Trustee Jean Mayo, who chairs the village board's environmental committee.

Phosphorous is typically used to "green up" lawns, but actually nitrogen does that and most soils in the Midwest already have adequate amounts of phosphorus to grow healthy lawns, according to a report from Jackie Soccorso, Wauconda's director of environmental quality and superintendent of administration-public works.

The report states excess phosphorous leaves a site through stormwater runoff and finds its way to lakes, streams, wetlands, ponds, retention and detention areas. Phosphorous makes waterways vulnerable to undesirable biological growth, such as weeds, and depletes oxygen in the water needed for organisms to survive. Much of the stormwater runoff from Wauconda eventually makes its way to the Fox River, unless it is absorbed into the ground, evaporates or is contained in a basin or pond.

The Lake County Health Department, which monitors lakes, has encouraged municipalities to approve zero phosphorous ordinances. Those that have done so include Antioch, Highland Park, Lindenhurst, Long Grove, Riverwoods, Third Lake and Vernon Hills.

The zero-phosphorous ordinances require voluntary compliance.

In Vernon Hills, letters are sent to stores and landscape services, for example.

"The Vernon Hills approach has been more to educate, to work with the business owners, to work with the property managers in the large business parks in town," said David Brown, public works director.

As a former farming area, phosphorous is inherent in the soils and in turn the ponds in the community, Brown said.

Controlling algae in lakes and ponds in the village would cost an estimated $50,000 per year, so part of the effort has been to control use of fertilizer containing phosphorous at the source. Whether or to what extent that has been effective is unknown.

"We don't have any scientific analysis," he said. "What we would anticipate doing is comparing the numbers from previous studies with more current studies."

In Wauconda, a report from the county also shows phosphorous levels in Bangs Lake trending downward in 2006, 2007 and 2008. That, in conjunction with a village staff shortage making enforcement of such an ordinance difficult was enough for committee members to recommend passage of a resolution discouraging residential and commercial use of phosphorous.

The resolution will be considered by the village board meeting as a committee of the whole Sept. 28. Committee members also agreed information about phosphorous-related problems be sent to leaders of homeowners associations in the village and made available on the village website.

Excess nitrogen and phosphorous is considered a high-profile water quality issue in Illinois and is the topic of a "Nutrient Summit" Sept. 13 and 14 in Springfield.

Daily Herald Staff Writer Mick Zawislak contributed to this report