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City pulls back from ban; pursues education effort

Lake Oswego officials agreed last week to launch a public education campaign about the dangers of phosphorus pollution and to look at limiting commercial application of phosphorus-based fertilizers in town.

The Lake Oswego City Council stopped short of banning phosphorus fertilizers overall, a move proposed in April, saying public education might control the use of phosphorus products better than civil penalties.

In a workshop Oct. 10 with local retailers, the Lake Oswego Corporation and water quality specialists, councilors agreed that an overabundance of phosphorus in the watershed continues to be a problem but weren't convinced it came predominantly from fertilizer.

In Oswego Lake, excessive phosphorus has caused abundant algae growth and, in 2004, caused a toxic bloom of blue-green algae that temporarily closed the lake to recreation. Phosphorus comes from a number of sources locally and naturally occurs in soils here at high levels. Leaves, animal waste, grass clippings and other natural sources contribute phosphorus to the watershed as well as phosphorus-based fertilizers.

Mayor Judie Hammerstad, after hearing presentations from experts, said she previously believed the impact of phosphorus-based fertilizers on the watershed was more dramatic. Experts said controls on fertilizers would reduce phosphorus by a range of .2 to 16 percent overall.

'The biggest thing I learned tonight is this problem is not as large as I thought it was but that doesn't mean I'm satisfied,' she said.

City officials agreed they would still consider a ban on phosphorus if the results of a statewide ban on those products in Minnesota prove dramatic for water quality. A study of the effects of Minnesota's ban is due out in January. Meanwhile, local leaders said they would wait to take a punitive stance against those who use phosphorus products, instead opting for a public education campaign to discourage their use.

Lake Corp officials, who testified in support of any action to reduce phosphorus, were satisfied with the decision.

'Any awareness that we can create on any issue of benefit to the community is certainly helpful. I think the council is taking a very deliberate approach and they're to be commended for that,' said Bill Wiley, president of the Lake Corp.

The corporation staged its own public awareness campaign targeting phosphorus fertilizers in April, selling nearly 7,000 pounds of phosphorus-free products to encourage locals to try new products.

In addition to the education campaign, city Councilor Frank Groznik advocated for a review of development practices in Lake Oswego, which can sometimes strip the nutrients from lawns by plowing away topsoil, in turn leading to the use of fertilizers. Eroded soil also contributes phosphorus to the watershed.

'I personally think we're aiming at phosphorus-free fertilizer because it's an easy target because we have a development community that's out there saying, 'oh no, you're not going to change the way I develop,'' Groznik said.

'I'm all for education and I think that's where it has to start. I'm not in favor of this ordinance because I think it's unmanageable and the money we would put into developing it is better spent educating people but I would like to start taking us down the path of low-impact development,' he said.

The Lake Oswego City Council plans to revisit a potential ban on phosphorus fertilizer in February, after the effects of Minnesota's statewide program are known.