A long legal battle over water quality in the Florida Everglades may be nearing resolution with submission by the state of a revised national pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES) permit to U.S. EPA. The permit and an associated consent order would authorize the operation of 6,500 acres of new stormwater treatment areas (STA) and other water quality projects, which would be built over the next 12 years and add an additional $880 million in costs to existing restoration work the state is overseeing in the Everglades. EPA has about a month to review the permit, which was written to accommodate objections the Agency had to an earlier draft.
Portions of the Everglades are plagued by elevated levels of phosphorus discharged by farms to the north. Phosphorus exacerbates the growth of cattails and other plant species that impede the growth of saw grass critical to the Everglades’ unique natural sheet water flow.
Florida has taken a number of actions to manage the problem, including issuing a phosphorus rule and amending its 1994 Everglades Forever Act (EFA). But in 2009 EPA disapproved major portions of these actions. Also, the state has been on the losing side of litigation mounted by the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians and the Friends of the Everglades. In April 2010, a U.S. appeals court ordered Florida to correct problems with the phosphorus plan and the EFA and also directed EPA to issue its own phosphorus rule if the state failed to comply with the court order according to a mandated schedule.
The state eventually submitted its permit program to EPA, and EPA responded with a list of objections. The current revised permit, consent order, and technical plan respond to those objections and, according to Florida Governor Rick Scott, “represent a significant and historic milestone toward restoring America’s Everglades.” The overall plan was proposed by Scott and was refined through collaboration with technical experts from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, EPA and the South Florida Water Management District, according to the state.
Florida’s documents establish a 10 parts per billion (ppb) ambient water quality criterion for phosphorus; require an array of water treatment and storage projects; include an enforceable schedule with construction milestones; and include a “science-based” plan to improve the treatment performance of existing constructed wetlands that capture stormwater runoff and discharge treated water into the Everglades. In addition to the new 6,500 acres of new STAs included in six key projects, Florida commits to building 110,000 acre-feet of additional water storage through construction of flow equalization basins.
“The plan is a comprehensive alternative that can achieve water quality goals established for the Everglades, without unnecessarily burdening Florida’s citizens with new taxes,” says the state. “By utilizing thousands of acres of land already in public ownership, it minimizes impacts to Florida’s agricultural-based economy and accelerates the construction of new water quality improvement projects.”
More information on Florida’s submittal to EPA is at http://depnewsroom.wordpress.com/hot-topics/everglades.