TALLAHASSEE, FLA. — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized protective standards to help reduce water pollution that causes harmful algae blooms — the thick, green muck that fouls clear water — which can produce toxins harmful to humans, animals, and ecosystems across the state of Florida. The blooms are caused by phosphorous and nitrogen pollution from excess fertilizer, stormwater, and wastewater that flows off land into waterways. The final standards set specific numeric limits on the amount of nutrient pollution allowed in Florida’s lakes, rivers, streams, and springs. These specific limits will provide much needed predictability and clarity to all involved in protecting water quality compared to the current general standards. Currently, more than 1,900 rivers and streams, 375,000 acres of lakes, and 500 square miles of estuaries are known to be impaired by nutrients in Florida.
These new standards will become effective in February 2011, allowing cities, towns, businesses, other stakeholders, and the state of Florida a full opportunity to review the standards and develop strategies for implementation while Florida continues to recover from the current economic crisis.
“After extensive scientific study, multiple rounds of public discussion, and collaboration between the state of Florida and EPA, we’re ready to work together to tackle a problem that for years has threatened drinking water supplies, hurt tourism revenue, and lowered property values,” said Peter Silva, assistant administrator for the Office of Water at the EPA. “Clean water is essential to Florida’s environmental and economic health. This rule will allow the people of Florida to take common sense, cost-effective steps to tackle harmful nutrient water pollution.”
"Anyone who has seen the green sludge coating Florida’s waters has experienced the consequences of excess nutrient pollution. This is a serious environmental problem that harms Florida’s economy and quality of life," said EPA’s Regional Administrator Gwen Keyes-Fleming. "EPA sought extensive public comment and scientific input during the rulemaking process, and these standards respond to that feedback by providing a practical, flexible approach to meeting the expectations of Florida’s citizens for clean, healthy water."
The EPA engaged in extensive public outreach and consultation with Florida stakeholders by conducting 13 well-attended public hearing sessions in six cities in Florida during a three-month public comment period. The agency received more than 22,000 public comments on its original proposal. The EPA worked in close consultation with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, along with local experts and government officials, to ensure that the best available science formed the basis for the standards and that implementation would be flexible and cost-effective. Florida’s environmental agency is committed to protecting Florida’s water quality, has a high level of scientific expertise, and one of the country’s best databases on the condition of its waters, all of which played a critical role in shaping the final numeric standards.
During the 15-month period before the numeric standards take effect, EPA will work closely with the state to determine the next steps to achieve the objectives of the standards. The standards do not take a “one-size-fits-all” approach, but reflect conditions in five different watershed regions and allow for case-by-case adjustments based on local environmental factors while maintaining water quality. Governments or other stakeholders can seek special consideration in cases where the state and local communities have extensively assessed water bodies and effective measures are in place to reduce nutrient pollution.
In Florida, nutrient pollution has contributed to severe water quality degradation. Based upon waters assessed and reported in Florida’s 2010 Integrated Water Quality Assessment, approximately 1,918 miles of rivers and streams, 378,435 acres of lakes, and 569 square miles of estuaries are known to be impaired for nutrients in the state.
The Florida Wildlife Federation filed a 2008 lawsuit against the EPA, resulting in a finding by the previous administration in January 2009 under the Clean Water Act that nutrient pollution standards are necessary for Florida. The resulting settlement, reflected in a consent decree entered in August 2009, requires the EPA to adopt specific or “numeric” nutrient pollution standards by November 2010. The final rule complies with this consent decree. Under the decree, the EPA is required to issue additional standards for Florida’s coastal waters by August 2012 and will soon submit the underlying science for these standards to its independent Science Advisory Board for peer review.
For more information on the final standards for Florida lakes, springs, and streams, visit http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/rulesregs/florida_index.cfm.