EPA Proposes New Water Quality Criteria for Florida
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that a new nutrient standard is necessary to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act (CWA) in Florida. In January 2010, the EPA proposed to adopt water quality criteria for total nitrogen and total phosphorus (nutrient pollution) in Florida lakes and streams.
Similar to the human body, bodies of water require nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, to be healthy, but too much can be harmful. According to the EPA, nutrient pollution is one of the top three causes of impairment of the nation’s waters.
Although the EPA has recognized Florida as a national leader in its efforts to manage nutrient-related pollution, substantial water quality degradation from nutrient over-enrichment remains a significant challenge in the state. The EPA plans to promulgate the new standards in October 2010, meaning that lakes and flowing waters will have to meet those new criteria within twelve months and estuaries and coastal waters must comply within twenty-four months.
The combined impact of both urban and agricultural activities along with Florida’s physical features and aquatic ecosystems mean that the current use of the nutrient criteria alone is insufficient to ensure protection of water systems. Likewise, the EPA believes that the increased water quality standards will strengthen the foundation for identifying impaired waters, preparing Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) and developing National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES or stormwater) permits.
The proposed criteria are based on more than a decade’s accumulation of data from Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection and represent more than 10,000 observations of nutrient levels, measurements of aquatic system health, and other variables. This is one of the largest data sets developed by a state for the purpose of developing nutrient criteria.
While the EPA’s current regulatory activity will apply only to Florida waters, it could have national significance as it provides considerable insight to the approaches the EPA deems adequate for numeric nutrient criteria for lakes and streams.