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Florida NNC Background

EPA and FDEP Agreement to Protect Statewide Waters from Nutrient Pollution

Background

In January of 2009, EPA made a determination that numeric nutrient criteria are needed to protect Florida’s waters. Since making that determination over four years ago, EPA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) have developed a strong scientific understanding and basis for numeric criteria for Florida’s diverse waters. It has been a complex task, yet the State is now poised to have protective numeric criteria in place for the vast majority of waters in the State. This is due to tireless efforts by both EPA and FDEP scientists.

The EPA’s goal from the outset was to support Florida’s efforts to develop protective numeric criteria consistent with the Clean Water Act. To date, FDEP has adopted and EPA has approved numeric criteria for over 185,000 lakes, all springs, and several major estuaries and coastal waters. Based on the agreement reached with FDEP, which was announced on Mar. 15, 2013, the State will have numeric criteria, adopted in accordance with Clean Water Act requirements, for all of the remaining estuaries and coastal waters by December 1, 2014, a full year ahead of their previous schedule. Even for the majority of these remaining waters, FDEP will submit numeric criteria for review under the Clean Water Act by July of 2013. For any estuary and coastal waters that remain, FDEP has committed to establish interim values that can be used for regulatory purposes on a water-by-water basis while final numeric criteria are developed.

Developing numeric criteria for freshwater streams has been a resource-intensive effort for the EPA and FDEP because of the diversity in physical, chemical, and biological conditions encountered in Florida. For the majority of these waters, the EPA and FDEP developed virtually identical numeric values for total nitrogen and total phosphorus, and the EPA approved the State’s use of additional biological metrics to complement the chemical values for these waters. Based on the EPA’s approval in November of 2012, Florida will have protective criteria in place for up to 75 percent of flowing waters across the state. For flowing waters south of Lake Okeechobee, the State has adopted a protective and quantitative approach that will ensure the water quality in the flowing waters is of sufficient quality to protect the coastal waters and estuaries. This is an approach that is similar to an approach the EPA proposed last November. This is also in addition to the total phosphorus standard the State adopted to protect the Everglades Protection Area several years ago – that standard is the cornerstone of the landmark agreement reached between EPA and FDEP last year to move Everglades restoration forward.

There are other flowing waters for which the EPA believes more specific scientific evaluation would be beneficial in the development of numeric criteria. These include tidal creeks, tidal segments, marine lakes, and waters such as canals that are used solely for water management purposes (called “conveyances”). Each of these types of waters retains the current narrative aquatic life, as well as recreational and drinking water, as appropriate, protections under Florida law consistent with the Clean Water Act, and regulatory controls will be developed by FDEP on a site-specific basis, as needed. However, for the last category of waters, stormwater conveyances, the EPA and FDEP agreed that any of these waters that now have important public uses, such as fishing, swimming, or navigation or that serve as boat access for homeowners, would have the additional protection afforded by the State’s numeric nutrient standards.

The work already completed by the State and the EPA on developing numeric criteria, together with the important commitments for the remaining work to be done, is significant in terms of having the State in the best position to move forward to implement these protective standards. Few other states have accomplished the scope and the level of detail, in terms of implementation procedures, for protecting their waters from nutrient pollution. Over the course of the last four years, our collective efforts have moved the public discourse forward to the point that the regulated community and the public at large recognize the need for numeric nutrient standards and the necessity of protecting all waters which serve as the economic lifeblood for the State. The EPA’s efforts have always been about protecting the waters of Florida and our goal has always been for the State to take the responsibility afforded it by the Clean Water Act to develop and implement its own water quality standards. The State is now in a better position to move forward to protect and restore its waters for its citizens, for its economic vitality, for its abundant wildlife and fisheries, and for the millions of tourists that come to enjoy its waters each year.