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Options for mitigating fertilizer/herbicide/pesticide runoff from neighboring properties?

 
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Backstory:
Twenty years ago my wife’s parents purchased a 5.5 acre parcel of land in town with the idea of splitting it up among their children. We are now splitting up the property and going through the motions with the city and plotting out parcels.  I chose the southernmost portion of the property as it secluded, has an unobstructed southern exposure, and has been undisturbed for at least fifty years. Our lot is 1.21 acres with an additional .33 acres of city owned easement that is only accessible to us. Roughly .4 acres of our lot has been deemed wetlands; the wetlands area along the western property line is muddy in the rainy season and the wetlands area along the eastern property line contains cypress trees and standing water year round.  

My concern:
Our western property line abuts a cookie cutter subdivision that slopes down towards our wetlands. When it rains runoff from at least three yards flows through our wetlands, accumulates in a low spot, and then flows off of the property via an existing drainage ditch system. Based on an average rainfall of 50” and the size of the abutting yards (71,001sqft total) that is approximately 2,213,018 gallons of tainted water making its way through our property yearly.

My thoughts:
I am torn on what to do about the situation.

I could put my needs and well being above everyone else by thumbing my nose at the county, state, and federal governments by illegally digging a trench along the property line, lining the trench with a non permeable material, and then direct the contaminated water away from the wetlands and directly into the drainage ditch. Doing that could possibly allow the wetlands to heal over time but, I would just be putting that much more polluted water directly in the waterways and possibly hurting ecosystems downstream.

I could do nothing and just let the water pass through the landscape but, I think that the continued accumulation of toxic lawn “care” products is going to have dire consequences for the wetlands on our property. I could try putting in plants that work to clean the water like broadleaf cattails but, as most herbicides target broadleaf plants I am not sure that would be an option.

I could form a raiding party, raze my neighbors’ houses to the ground, and annex their lands but, I think that would be considered, by some, to be rude and antisocial.

I have read through the forums and listened to the bulk of the podcasts but, I can not find an answer to my dilemma.

I am attaching a map of the property.  My parcel is outlined in red and my in-laws are outlined by green and purple. The arrows represent the way water flows over and through the landscape.

Any thoughts on the matter would be appreciated.

Thanks.


 
master gardener
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Yes. I would avoid anything violent . So, lets discuss support. Are there any active environmental groups that would assist you in putting forth a proposal to "save our wetlands"?   Who is in a decision making position to support you in saving the wetlands?
 
pollinator
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Diverting water could also kill the wetlands, by drying them out. So what is the run-of doing? has it killed anything? Are plants on the way down dying? If there's no evidence of any harm you're going to have a big problem convincing anyone of any problem. As far as I understand it most states have laws on herbicides and they cannot affect anything on neighbouring property, you can sue and claim damages if they do they are often referred to as over-spray laws but they are not limited to spray drift. They do require proof of loss however.
 
pollinator
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First step might be to approach the real estate developer or homeowners association and ask whether they have any rules on lawn and garden chemicals, out of concern for the wetlands which mutually benefit you and them. Then you'll have a starting point for possible cooperation. You will also learn what degree of independence the individual homeowners have in this regard.

You do not say where you are located, but most parts of U.S. there is some state and local level agencies charged with protecting the watershed (e.g. here they are "Water Reclamation Districts"). If you suspect chemical runoff, have the water tested, and notify the agency.  In my opinion, once the the official protectors are uninterested or ineffective at dealing with the problem, then I think it is time for grassroots action/DIY mitigation/nuisance lawsuits.  
 
L. Michael Hoffman
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I am located in Jacksonville Florida.

I do not wish to draw unwanted attention from governmental agencies while going through our platting and zoning process. Nor do I want to tick off my future neighborhoods prior to having our parcel approved by the land use and zoning committee. I also don't plan on actually launching a war party against my neighbors and entering into permaculture valhalla.

I work for one of the City's many departments of making you sad and deal with neighbor disputes all day everyday.  This issue would be labeled a civil issue between neighbors and closed out. My mother worked for the city's environmental quality department for 35 years and they just defer to the state which also doesn't care too much.

I have spoken with multiple agencies (local, state, & federal) and they all say what you can't do but, nothing about what you can do to improve things.

It would be hard for me to prove that damage has occurred as the subdivision by the property has been there for about 25 years.

What are your thoughts about the potential accumulation of herbicides and fertilizers in wetland areas?

Do you think the sheer volume of water moving across the landscape is enough to mitigate the chemical runoff?

I appreciate the feedback.
 
gardener
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In the past 30+ years, there has been a lot of amazing research on constructing wetlands for bioremediation of run-off water from things like parking lots or other upstream sites that leach bad stuff.  The list of plants that capture and hold heavy metals (for example) or petrochemicals (again, for example) is lengthy.

So . . . could you create a watercourse that channels the run-off water from those upstream homes through reed beds and other toxin-capturing plants?  After the worst stuff has been captured by the filter plants and microbes, the water would then be released down into the wetland itself.  The permaculture principle here would be using a biological solution to fix a problem.  Yes, it would take some initial management, but once you established such a system (a biological filter that cleans the water before it continues down through your property), it should be self-maintaining.

A simple plant like cattails have tremendous bioremediation capacity.

https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/constructed-wetlands-and-their-role-in-remediation-of-industrial-effluents-via-plantmicrobe-interaction-8211-a-mini-review-2155-6199-1000447-103498.html


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhSFrQuKu_s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arVtT-RCc7k


Does the wetland cross over the property line?  If so, plant the remediation plants on their side of the line.  It's their chemicals that are leaching, so they should own the solution to a problem they've created.

 
gardener
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I agree with what Marco Banks' has said - position plants to fix the problem. If the neighbors are using excessive herbicides, the results will likely show up if you plant some indicator plants. Try to get a feel for when herbicides are likely to be used, take before and after photos, and consider trying to get the neighbors on board with finding less toxic ways to meet their needs rather than assuming they "refuse to care" rather than "don't realize the effect they're having". Having cute pictures of tadpoles and "micro-frogs" (we have baby tree frogs that have just lost their tails but can't leave the water yet that are tooooo... adorable to poison in *my* opinion!) from the wetland, or bird nests and baby birds to "encourage" the neighbors to want to protect the area, could be helpful.

I've also been doing a lot of research into using biochar to capture toxic metals etc. If you're willing to test the run-off or the mud near those homes and if you discover nasty stuff, I'd actually put the biochar into bags so you can remove them after a time and replace the char with fresh char.

Fertilizer is a different issue. Signs of it building up would likely be algae blooms, but with the amount of rainfall you're suggesting, those blooms could be way down stream. Cattails are a great solution so long as you actually harvest some of them while green for compost or mulch (or more biochar!)I read about their use for sucking up excess nitrogen and phosphorus and putting those valuable nutrients to much better use than algae blooms in the book, "Alcohol can be a gas" by Bloom. This is totally a place where 'the problem is the solution' can be used. Nitrogen in the right amount in the right place is *not* a toxin or a *bad* thing - we have to turn the liability into an asset. Fertilizer itself is not a toxin - it's just usually at a level that can be toxic to micro-organisms, and that damages the environment down slope when it runs off. Yes, I would prefer the neighbors let their grass clipping drop and naturally decompose so they never had to add fertilizer, but convincing them that all the advertisements are wrong may be harder than fixing the problems with plants that will suck those nutrients up and provide you with biomass you would find useful. "Chicken shit" is fertilizer, and I use it to my advantage. Many people tend to automatically associate the word "fertilizer" with chemicals you buy in a bag, but give them other ideas and you may get them on board. Every couple of years, I end up with a small group of ducks in a 4'x8' portable shelter who are referred to as my, "Front Lawn Fertilization Committee" while they're there - I've gotten more than one laugh out of the name, and plenty of "hmmm... that's an idea" reactions.

Good luck with whatever you decide to do, but I'm definitely in favor of finding a solution that will "fix" things in place, rather than sending them to that magical place, "away".
 
gardener
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I want to hear more about this "Permaculture Valhalla!" It sounds cool. I also like cattails. I bet cattails grow in Permaculture Valhalla. My ideas have already been covered above. Plants/fungi/bacteria that eat the bad stuff.
 
Marco Banks
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Pigs LOVE cattails.  They eat the roots and also parts of the stalk.  They grow like weeds but have a lot of nutrition and calories.

So if the concern is excess NKP, then something as simple as cattails might be a great solution, particularly if you can borrow some pigs a couple times a year and let them thin them out for you.  But if they are spraying pesticides and herbicides, that's a whole different problem.
 
pollinator
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Have you had the water tested? If not, you might be able to positively establish the fact that these chemicals are indeed entering the wetland.

Have you witnessed application of these chemicals from a lawn service or otherwise?  

Have you spoken to the homeowners with the largest impact?
 
pollinator
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I like the "remediate with plants (particularly cattails)" idea above. I *think* some kind of catchment that slows the water near the property line and overflows into the wetland might be a good idea. Full disclosure: my largest earthwork I've done personally was probably setting a corner post. Consult with (or be) a more experienced permie before taking advice from me on this. I don't know if what I picture is more pond or swale. It's deep enough to hold some woody material for fungal growth, but too shallow to hold enough water to float the wood out of the catchment. Once full, the water gently overflows at the end(s), like how swales are done. I don't know if wood chips would stay in this thing, or float out. Might need to use logs? All to incorporate fungi to work on any pesticides. Still put the remediation plants anywhere and everywhere, turn fertilizer runoff into usable biomass.
 
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You might want to check out some of Paul Stamets' books as well.  He used fungi in burlap bags as a way to clean up water runoff from cattleyards.  When the state tested the water downstream of his biofilters, they found it was very much cleaned up by the fungi.  He also has info on fungi that clean up oil spills and heavy metal accumulation.  Can't recall if he mentioned any that cleaned up pesticides or herbicides directly.
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