U.S. EPA estimates that roughly half of the nation's water bodies suffer from some level of water pollution caused by excessive amounts of the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus entering waterways. This type of water pollution is often characterized by unsightly algae blooms, which look and smell unappealing and also upset the ecological balance of lakes and streams. Long Island Sound, Lake Champlain, and the Charles River are a few high-profile examples of waters of the Northeast that are highly impacted by nutrient pollution, and countless local ponds, lakes, streams and bays throughout the northeast face similar nutrient problems.

In the majority of cases, polluted runoff is the primary source of nutrients to our waters. When it rains and when snow melts, the rain or melt water picks up pollutants as it travels across developed land areas and farms. Eventually, this runoff will enter a storm drain, which empties into a local water body. When homeowners or professional landscapers apply too much fertilizer on lawns, and when they apply fertilizer while the ground is frozen or right before a heavy rain storm, nutrients in the fertilizer are carried in runoff to the nearest body of water. There, nutrients over-feed algae, contributing to problematic algae blooms and the declining health of our lakes, rivers, and bays.

In the fall of 2011, the six environmental agency commissioners from the New England States agreed to implement a voluntary regional initiative to reduce nutrient pollution from the use of lawn fertilizers. The New York state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has also opted to be included in this regional effort. This initiative has strong support from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) Region I Office, and EPA will continue to be an active and vital partner.

In April 2012, this Northeast Voluntary Turf Initiative was formally launched into action. As a primary first step, the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC) and its state and federal partners will coordinate a series of issue-specific meetings with various stakeholders to develop voluntary guidelines for reducing of nutrient pollution from lawn fertilizing. These guidelines will then be formalized through agreements between stakeholders and the states. The goal is to finalize stakeholder agreements by the end of 2012.

This voluntary initiative to reduce nutrient pollution from turf fertilizers is an important action for achieving surface water quality goals in all of the northeastern states. For an overview of this initiative, including more information on the 2012 stakeholder meetings, visit NEIWPCC's website. MassDEP's website provides additional information on water pollution coming from run-off, and what we can all do to prevent it.