EPA Finalizes Standards to Protect Florida Waters
Specific limits set for amount of nutrient pollution allowed in waterways
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized protective standards to help reduce water pollution that causes harmful algae blooms, 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, storm water 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 limits will provide 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 sq miles of estuaries are known to be impaired by nutrients in Florida.
These new standards will become effective 15 months from now, allowing cities, towns, businesses, other stakeholders and the state of Florida a full opportunity to review the standards and develop strategies for implementation while the state continues to recover from the current economic crisis.
EPA engaged in extensive public outreach and consultation with Florida stakeholders by conducting 13 well-attended public hearing sessions in six cities during a three-month public comment period. The agency received over 22,000 public comments on the original proposal. 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.