An Echo Press Editorial: Are you helping or harming our lakes?

From the editorial: People will say they love our lakes, that we should be doing more to protect them, that we should make water quality a priority. But then...

Lakes 8843.jpg
The Alexandria area is brimming with lakes and homes along the shores.
Alexandria Echo Press file photo

What people say about our lakes and what they do to our lakes often don’t mesh.

People will say they love our lakes, that we should be doing more to protect them, that we should make water quality a priority.

But then those same people will drown their lawns in harmful pesticides and fertilizers to keep that “golf course green” look on their yards.

Spring – when people are working on their lawns, trees and gardens – is a good time to reevaluate those kinds of practices.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is urging property owners to be cautious about using pesticides and fertilizers and make sure they’re following all label directions. The advice holds for everyone – even those who don’t live directly by a lake – because what you put on your lawns or gardens end up in watersheds, ponds or ditch systems and ultimately, lakes.


The ag department emphasized that pesticide and fertilizer labels specify how to use products safely and effectively. In Minnesota, it is against the law to apply products without following label instructions. The label is the law.

The ag department gives this advice:

If you do it yourself:

  • Read and follow all label directions.
  • Do not apply products in windy or adverse weather conditions. High wind can cause products to drift and potentially harm people, pets, or plants.
  • Sweep sidewalks and hard surfaces of any dry or granular product and reapply to the intended area. Pesticides left on these surfaces easily wash into our water supply.
  • Buy only what you need. Unused products must be stored according to the label, can lose effectiveness over time, and be difficult to dispose of properly. Find a pesticide waste collection site near you to safely dispose of any unused product.

If you hire a professional:

  • Professionals must be licensed by the MDA and carry their pesticide applicator license with them. Ask to see their license before they start work.
  • Be cautious of people who claim their products are completely safe, or pressure you to sign a service contract.
  • Recognize posted warning flags in areas that have been chemically treated.
  • Applicators are required to provide an application record to you. Review the record, including products used and the amounts applied.
  • Be sure the applicator sweeps the sidewalks and hard surfaces clean of any dry or granular products.

For information about applicator licenses, call the MDA at 651-201-6615. To report unlicensed applicators, file a complaint on the MDA website or call 651-201-6333.
Consumers can call the Better Business Bureau at 651-699-1111 and check customer satisfaction histories for lawn care companies.

Here’s more advice from University of Minnesota Extension Educator Jon Trappe about whether there are organic alternatives to lawn fertilizers: “We encourage some supplemental fertilizer in lawns because it can help ensure a healthier turf,” he said in the university’s newsletter. “A healthier turf can be more resilient to stresses like foot traffic and allow the lawn to crowd out weeds like crabgrass. How much fertilizer to be applied can depend on a lot of things like the lawn species, soil type, or even how much shade you have. A good starting point is to have your soil tested. This will tell you the nutrient levels of your soil and the most beneficial type of fertilizer product.

“From the plant’s perspective, it doesn’t care if the fertilizer is synthetic or organic,” Trappe added. “However, your soil might benefit from an organic-type fertilizer product. Check your soil test first. Many organic fertilizers have phosphorus, which cannot be applied unless the soil test shows phosphorus as deficient.”

This spring, let’s all take extra time to review what we are putting into our lakes and make our actions speak louder than our words.

The Alexandria Echo Press Editorial Board consists of Editor Al Edenloff and Publisher Diane Drew.
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