New Jersey homeowners love their lawns. For many a suburbanite, a well-tended crop of lush, green grass is a sign of the good life.

But those beautiful lawns don't come cheap. In addition to the time and expense of maintaining a lawn, there is another cost we all pay: The products that keep our lawns green can destroy our rivers, lakes and bays. Chemical fertilizers are one of the primary components of nonpoint source pollution, the kind of pollution that is carried by rain and melting snow into waterways.

Last week New Jersey took an important step toward remedying that when new limits on fertilizer use went into effect.

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The new rules, signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie a year ago, reduce the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous that can be used in fertilizers. They are considered the strictest fertilizer limits in the nation.

In small amounts, nitrogen and phosphorus are necessary for plant growth, but when they are overused or misused and enter waterways, they can cause problems.

Nitrogen causes algae blooms that reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen in saltwater. Nitrogen runoff from developed land in its watershed is the main culprit in the degradation of Barnegat Bay, where this process, called eutrophication, has caused the death of fish, clams and underwater grasses and has allowed stinging jellyfish to thrive.

The new fertilizer limits were intended as part of the effort to help rescue the bay.

Phosphorus causes the same problems in fresh water.

Under the new rules, most fertilizers will no longer contain phosphorus. It can only be used when lawns are being established or re-established or when a soil test indicates it is needed. The rules limit the amount of nitrogen in fertilizers, and require that 20 percent of it be in a slow-release form, which is less likely to enter groundwater.

The law also bans winter applications of fertilizer (between Nov. 15 and March 1 for residential users, and between Dec. 1 and March 1 for professionals) and requires lawncare professionals to obtain certification in fertilizer use.

You can choose to see all of this as one more form of government intrusion, or you can take the approach of Judd McLaughlin, of Linwood. McLaughlin likes to take care of his lawn, but he told Press staff writer Sarah Watson, "I've been reading about stuff for years, about how bad problems are with runoff. We're surrounded by water, so we better all be aware of it and take whatever steps we need to. I'm not for over-regulation by any means, but we are supposed to be stewards of the planet."

We agree. The stricter fertilizer rules are a trade-off worth making to protect our waterways.

Certainly more needs to be done to help save Barnegat Bay, in particular, but the fertilizer limits are a good first step.

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