Gwen Keyes Fleming: Florida making progress on water pollution

Published: Sunday, December 2, 2012 at 9:40 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 2, 2012 at 9:40 a.m.

Nutrient pollution, the excess nitrogen and phosphorus that causes algal blooms and fish kills, is a major source of water quality impairment across the state of Florida. Nutrient pollution threatens human health and the environment, hurts businesses and costs jobs, reduces property values, diminishes recreational opportunities and impacts your quality of life.

EPA has long held that limits are necessary to protect Florida’s waters from nutrient pollution. The Clean Water Act (CWA) designates primary responsibility for protecting water quality with states, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) has worked for years to collect data on the condition of statewide waters and adopt its own numeric nutrient standards. Recently, EPA approved FDEP’s revised rules to reduce nutrient pollution in Florida’s treasured waters.

After careful review, EPA determined FDEP’s rules and supporting documentation meet CWA requirements and applicable federal regulations for the water bodies they cover. EPA commends the FDEP for taking this significant step towards protecting and restoring the quality of Florida’s waters.

FDEP’s rules use scientifically sound approaches to protect the many uses of Florida’s waters; from fishing and swimming to drinking. Because Florida and EPA worked together to develop the science, the numeric limits for nitrogen and phosphorus in springs, lakes and streams (outside South Florida) are virtually identical to those in EPA’s 2010 rule developed to protect these same waters. DEP also has adopted additional biological and chemical indicators that are used to identify and prevent nutrient pollution in streams and protect sensitive downstream waters. These tools were used by FDEP in the Santa Fe River to determine that it was impaired and needed restoration. Using numeric limits has also helped protect estuaries in Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay, Charlotte Harbor, and South Florida marine waters.

We are pleased that FDEP has also recently adopted numeric limits for nutrient pollution in additional Panhandle estuaries, and we look forward to receiving these for review under the CWA. However, in accordance with a 2009 consent decree with the Florida Wildlife Federation, EPA is also proposing two federal nutrient rules for only those waters not already protected by Florida's new standards.

The first rule proposes numeric limits on the amount of nutrient pollution allowed in Florida’s estuaries and coastal waters, as well as in flowing waters in South Florida. The other serves to clarify some provisions in EPA’s 2010 rule and proposes numeric limits on the amount of nutrient pollution for those inland waters not addressed in the FDEP’s current rules. These common sense measures will help protect the water that communities across Florida use for drinking, swimming, and fishing. EPA welcomes public comment on its proposals and will host a public information session and web-based public hearings to gather input.

While EPA is prepared to finalize these rules next year under its consent decree obligations, it is also prepared not to move forward and instead defer to Florida's rules for any Florida waters that become protected under state law in accordance with CWA requirements.

Clean water is vital for Florida, and the state is now on a path to establishing and implementing its own nutrient pollution rules that will allow everyone to enjoy cleaner water.

Gwen Keyes Fleming,

EPA Southeast Regional Administrator

EPA Region 4’s website is:

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