Are Lawn Fertilizers Safe For Well Water?

The desire to have lush green lawns has increased the use of lawn fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. Hence, homeowners with private wells are concerned about contamination of drinking water.

They ask questions like, are lawn fertilizers safe for well water? What safety measures should you adopt while using lawn fertilizers if you own a private well, and what is the right way to use lawn fertilizers?

This article will answer all these questions. So, if you are worried about using lawn fertilizers at a property with a private well, you are at the right place.

Are Lawn Fertilizers Safe For Well Water?

It depends on the type of fertilizer and how you use it. Organic lawn fertilizers are considered safe for well water. A high-end organic fertilizer is slow-release and breaks down over time. Organic fertilizers are renewable products such as manures, powdered rocks, blood meal, bone meal, wood ash, and compost.

What is the Right Way to Use Lawn Fertilizers if you own a Private Well?

What is the Right Way to Use Lawn Fertilizers if you own a Private Well?

The government of Texas has laid out some basic principles that can help private well owners use lawn fertilizers safely and limit contamination. Here are the key points outlined in the guidelines

  • Distance between the fertilizer storage facility and water well
  • Fertilizer preparation site
  • Fertilizer disposal system
  • Soil testing

Let’s discuss them in detail to minimize contamination due to fertilizer use.

Distance between Fertilizer Storage Facility and Water Well

The most critical thing is where you store your fertilizers. The minimum difference between a fertilizer storage facility and a water well is 150 feet. Moreover, the storage facility must be built downslope. You may need to build a new one or modify your existing fertilizer storage facility to reduce contamination risk.

  • Ensure that road access can accommodate deliveries and emergency equipment.
  • Store dry and liquid products separately; use pellets for fertilizer bags.
  • The storage area must be big enough to confine 125% of the volume of the largest container plus 100% of the volume of all storage tanks.
  • Use impermeable drainage pads and a sump basin to collect liquid, so any leakage doesn’t result in well water contamination through seeping.
  • Keep the facility locked to avoid unwanted access.

Fertilizer Preparation Site

Another way to minimize fertilizer contamination is safe preparation. Leakage at the same place consistently can lead to groundwater contamination via seepage. You must clean up spills according to the instructions provided by the manufacturer.

  • Avoid working with chemicals near your water well; use a designated water tank to transfer water to the preparation site.
  • Change the location of the mixing site every 6-12 months to a different area of the application filed to prevent spillage at one particular point.
  • Avoid mixing and preparing fertilizers on gravel driveways or surfaces that allow spills to move quickly into the soil.
  • Always leave a 6 inches air gap between the water hose and the top of the sprayer tank.
  • Transfer liquid chemicals in closed containers from the storage site to the application site to avoid spillage of concentrated chemicals.

Fertilizer Disposal System

How you dispose of your fertilizers can also lead to well water contamination. Burning fertilizer bags is illegal in many states. Here’s what you can do for safe disposal.

  • Buy large-size containers/bags to minimize the number of containers.
  • Buy chemicals in returnable containers if possible.
  • Triple-rinse the containers and dispose of the rinse water carefully.

Soil Testing

Soil testing is critical for avoiding fertilizer contamination. The most important factors here are the rate and timing of fertilizer application.

  • Test your soil annually to determine the appropriate application rate of nitrogen fertilizer. It is economical and eco-friendly.
  • Over-application leads to quick groundwater pollution. Match the fertilizer application rate with the expected crop yield.

Why are Lawn Fertilizers bad for Well Water?

Nitrate is a key component in most lawn fertilizers. Nitrates are highly soluble in water and easily leach down the soil, contaminating well water. Higher levels of nitrates in well water can cause birth defects, blue baby syndrome (in children below 6), thyroid diseases, and increase the risk for certain diseases.

EPA has set the maximum contaminant level (MCL) at 10 mg/L for nitrate.

How to know if my Well Water is Contaminated with Lawn Fertilizer?

You’ll have to test your water to check if nitrate levels have gone up due to lawn fertilizer. EPA recommends annual testing for all private well owners regardless they use lawn fertilizers or not.

You can also perform a DIY test, but home tests may not be reliable compared to lab testing.

How can I remove Lawn Fertilizer from my Well Water?

Lawn fertilizer contains nitrates that are difficult to remove. They cannot be removed with sediment or carbon filters, ultrafiltration systems, or UV filters. You will need to install a reverse osmosis water filter to remove nitrates to make water safe for drinking. The CDC recommends using RO filters, distillation or ion exchange filters. The problem with distillation is that it cannot produce enough water to meet the needs of a large family. Ion exchange filters effectively remove nitrates but cannot remove TDS, heavy metals, and other contaminants commonly found in well water.

What Safety Measures do I need to take while using Lawn Fertilizers?

What Safety Measures do I need to take while using Lawn Fertilizers?

  • Use a hose with the anti-siphon device to avoid backflow to your well water.
  • Rinse equipment and dispose of rinse water over your lawn.
  • Follow directions on the packing for safety precautions while mixing and spraying.

What can I do to reduce Lawn Fertilizer Application?

  • Keep your lawn well maintained to avoid weed growth; cut your grass 2-3 inches long with a sharp blade.
  • Avoid watering your lawn frequently, but water deeply to promote deep root growth, so grass doesn’t die or brown out during winters.
  • Grow native grass and shrubs because they are better adapted to conditions in your area.
  • Use alternatives to fertilizers.

Final Words

Lawn fertilizers can deteriorate water quality if not used with care. However, there are certain ways that you can use to reduce its usage and mitigate contamination chances. Make sure you follow the safety precautions and application details highlighted above.

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