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December 07, 2012
EPA approves Florida's partial water plan

The U.S. EPA reported progress in resolving disagreements with Florida over the state’s approach to reducing phosphorus and nitrogen (nutrient) pollution in state water bodies.  Specifically, the Agency has approved the state’s plan to set numeric nutrient criteria for some state waters.  However, the EPA is also proposing criteria for certain waters whose coverage, according to the Agency, is uncertain under Florida’s rules. 

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Numeric criteria

The Florida standards approved by the EPA change the state’s historic approach of using nonnumeric or narrative standards to ensure water quality.  Following legal action by environmental groups, the EPA agreed to issue its own numeric criteria for Florida waters unless the state developed criteria that met EPA‘s approval.  The state provided the Agency with revised criteria in June 2012.  EPA’s latest action approves the state’s numeric nutrient criteria for lakes, springs, flowing waters, four estuaries, and South Florida marine waters. 

The EPA informed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) that the state’s new hierarchical approach gives preference to local site-specific information that “best translates” the narrative criteria into numeric values.  Moreover, notes the EPA, if site-specific information is not available, FDEP will use a quantifiable stressor-response relationship that represents a “well-established and reliable scientific approach” to the development of numeric nutrient values. 

“Importantly, where data are lacking, the state’s rules err on the side of caution by listing waters as impaired pending further data collection,” states the EPA.  “This overall hierarchical method to deriving numeric criteria for lakes, springs, streams, and estuaries makes for a well-balanced and technically sound approach that is more effective and efficient than FDEP’s existing approach of individual interpretations of the narrative for each and every water body in the state.”

Two proposals

To address waters not covered by Florida’s standards, the EPA has proposed two rules.  A Phase I proposal seeks to cover inland flowing waters that may be excluded under the state’s plan.  These waters include tidally influenced segments, nonperennial streams, and actively maintained conveyances such as canals or ditches.  The EPA believes that these waters merit the protection afforded by numeric nutrient criteria because they may provide important habitat for a diverse range of aquatic plants and animals. 

Also, a Phase II proposal would establish nutrient limits for estuaries, coastal waters, and flowing waters in South Florida. 

The Agency states that it is prepared to “swiftly” withdraw both proposals if the FDEP addresses the omissions defined by the EPA.

“While EPA has approved the State’s criteria, we are disappointed about EPA’s decision to issue new proposed federal rules,” stated FDEP in an announcement.  “We will work with them to craft solutions that will allow the State to assume all nutrient criteria rulemaking in Florida. Florida knows its waters best and we remain committed on the path to a state-led solution, which is the best answer for Florida.”

Click here for information on EPA’s actions regarding Florida’s water-quality criteria.

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