EPA Proposes Standards to Protect Florida’s Waters

Jan. 15, 2010
Action would decrease amount of phosphorus and nitrogen pollution

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing water quality standards to protect people’s health, aquatic life and the long term recreational uses of Florida’s waters, which are a critical part of the state’s economy. In 2009, EPA entered into a consent decree with the Florida Wildlife Federation to propose limits to this pollution. The proposed action, released for public comment and developed in collaboration with the state, would set a series of numeric limits on the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen, also known as “nutrients,” that would be allowed in Florida’s lakes, rivers, streams, springs and canals.

Nutrient pollution can damage drinking water sources; increase exposure to harmful algal blooms, which are made of toxic microbes that can cause damage to the nervous system or even death; and form byproducts in drinking water from disinfection chemicals, some of which have been linked with serious human illnesses like bladder cancer. Phosphorus and nitrogen pollution come from storm water runoff, municipal wastewater treatment, fertilization of crops and livestock manure. Nitrogen also forms from the burning of fossil fuels, like gasoline.

“Florida has led the way with rigorous scientific analysis and data collection needed to address nutrient pollution,” said Peter S. Silva, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Water. “By relying on the best science, we can set standards that protect people’s health and preserve water bodies used for drinking, swimming, fishing and tourism. New water quality standards, developed in collaboration with the state, will help protect and restore inland waters that are a critical part of Florida's history, culture and economic prosperity.”

Nutrient problems can happen locally or much further downstream, leading to degraded lakes, reservoirs and estuaries, and to hypoxic “dead” zones where aquatic life can no longer survive. High amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus in surface water result in harmful algal blooms, dead fish, reduced mating grounds and nursery habitats for fish.

A 2008 Florida Department of Environmental Protection report assessing water quality for Florida revealed that approximately 1,000 miles of rivers and streams, 350,000 acres of lakes and 900 sq miles of estuaries are not meeting the state's water quality standards because of excess nutrients. These represent approximately 16% of Florida’s assessed river and stream miles, 36% of assessed lake acres and 25% of assessed estuary square miles. The actual number of miles and acres of waters impaired for nutrients is likely higher, as there are waters that have not yet been assessed.

The proposed action announced today also introduces and seeks comment on a new regulatory process for setting standards in a manner that drives water quality improvements in already impaired waters. The proposed new regulatory provision, called restoration standards, would be specific to nutrients in the state of Florida.

In August 2009, EPA entered into a consent decree with Florida Wildlife Federation, committing to propose numeric nutrient standards for lakes and flowing waters in Florida by January 2010, and for Florida's estuarine and coastal waters by January 2011. These dates are consistent with those outlined in EPA’s Jan. 14, 2009, determination under the Clean Water Act that numeric nutrient standards are needed in Florida. EPA also agreed to establish final standards by October 2010 for lakes and flowing waters and by October 2011 for estuarine and coastal waters.

EPA will accept public comments on the proposed standards for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register. EPA will also hold three public hearings on the proposed rule in Florida to obtain input and comments on the direction of EPA’s rulemaking. These hearings are scheduled for Feb. 16, 17 and 18, 2010, in Tallahassee, Orlando and West Palm Beach, respectively.

Source: U.S. EPA