Cross urges caution when using lawn care chemicals

Published 7:10 pm Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Springtime looks to have arrived to stay in the Commonwealth, and yardwork has begun. For many, part of that yardwork involves taking measures to ensure that their yard is a thick, lush rug of vibrant green. To achieve that weedless spread and healthy hue, many enlist the assistance of herbicides and various chemical agents. Nicholasville’s Engineering Supervisor For Planning and Zoning Tim Cross urges caution to those using the agents trying to keep their Bluegrass healthy.

Cross said that the issue that arises from heavy chemical usage on urban lawns is that the excess rolls off of the oversaturated lawns and finds its way into the storm drains. 

“It’s that time of year, and commercials are pushing the chemicals,” Cross said. “What we have found in the state of Kentucky is that if people would just test their soil, it may not be the nutrients in the soil that are causing their lawn problems. They may need to do other things such as thatch or aerate to get their lawns to grow better.”

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“Farmers get such a negative view because of their use of pesticides and herbicides,” Cross said. “But they are financially driven. When we get ready to do our fields, we test our soil and we put down the minimal amount [of chemicals] to get the product out.” In contrast, he said that lawn care products are driven by extra income and are applied often times in a manner where efficiency is negated.

“We put it down thick and push it, and we don’t clean up,” Cross explained. He said that most crop fields have strips of grass at their borders to act as a buffer for runoff, whereas most lawns in the city have minimal topsoil and run right up to the street. Excess lawn products that get washed onto the concrete are carried straight into storm drains. This creates big problems.

“I would say that a large number of people think that stormwater goes through a water treatment facility, and it doesn’t,” Cross said. “Stormwater is not treated. The only places that you find storm water getting treated is when you have a really high water table and you have combined sewers of stormwater and sanitary. Fortunately for us, we don’t have any combined sewers, and all of our storm water goes straight to the stream.” 

He said that stormwater that falls onto city yards runs off into the gutter in the street, then the storm pipe, then into a detention basin temporarily before finding its way into a stream. Nearly all stormwater from Nicholasville eventually makes its way to Jessamine Creek, and then on to the river.

In that stormwater are all of the excess chemicals that were put on the yards that weren’t absorbed into the soil. Once these elements enter the streams, the result is an unwanted algae crop in the waterways. The algae blooms come directly from the phosphorus and nitrogen content in the fertilizers. The algae removes the oxygen from the water, which in turn has a negative impact on what we drink.

Results from the excess herbicides and pesticides setting in waterways are less evident, Cross said, because their impact are not visible right away.

Cross is a big advocate for homeowners taking soil samples to either the nearest Southern States or the county’s extension office for an analysis of their soil’s composition. The cost of the service is $6, and can save money in the long run on the purchase of unnecessary products.

When necessary, there are alternative solutions available to those who want to reduce the weed population in their lawn without the risk of harming the water supply. Cross said that a highly effective herbicide can be created by mixing one gallon of distilled vinegar with one ounce of dish soap.

“Vinegar either comes from grain or apple cider, making it a natural ingredient and not a chemically-altered nasty mess,” Cross said. “It’s using what we get from nature to kill what you don’t want. You don’t have to use the soap, it just works faster if you do.” Cross said that the naturally-potent concoction is a contact killer, meaning that it kills what it touches as opposed to being a systemic killer than needs to be absorbed through the roots. Therefore, he advises not spraying it on a windy day. 

Other advice that Tim Cross offered for a healthy and beautiful lawn is to make sure that fertilizers are not put out right before a heavy rain or storm. Also, be sure to clean up any excess that finds its way onto streets or sidewalks. This extra work can be avoided by simply making sure that substances are not overused. He also reminds everyone not to dump their lawn clippings in the curb or in a ditch. He said those clippings making their way into the gutters results in blocked drains that city crews must clean out to enable water to flow correctly.

“Clippings are your yard waste,” Cross said. “The streams, gutters and streets are not the place to blow your clippings.” He said that anything that is put into the pipes goes into the stream—nothing is out of sight, out of mind.

Monitoring the elements that get into the water supply has a massive impact on the drinking water situation. Cross said that anything that Fayette County puts into their water stream makes its way into the pool from where Nicholasville’s drinking water is drawn from. Likewise, what goes into Nicholasville’s stream goes into the drinking water of people in the Frankfort area and on down the line.

Since Nicholasville’s population is above 10,000, it is a Phase ll city per the Kentucky Stormwater Association, meaning that the city is required to have a Kentucky stormwater permit. Therefore, Cross said that water quality testing, education and outreach is necessary.

“We have to realize the impact of storm water once it is out of sight and out of mind,” Cross said. “Everything we put on our lawns and on the street has an impact.”