Fluid Rules for Florida Waters

In a phone-in press conference from Tallahassee this morning, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says new nutrient management rules for Florida waters are "flexible".

Published on: Nov 16, 2010

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's specific numeric nutrient pollution standards for Florida are final today, but the regulations won't be implemented for 15 months, according to EPA Southeast Administrator Gwen Keyes-Fleming.

Speaking at a phone-in press conference from Tallahassee, Fla., Keyes-Fleming said the standards are divided into five zones to account for varying conditions and allow for site-specific adjustments. Her presentation was peppered with "flexible", "common sense" and "science-based".

"EPA has made sure the new rules offer flexibility in implementation and tasked the state with taking actions that make the most sense," Keyes-Fleming said. "For instance, we have created opportunities to set site-specific standards, therefore, the standards do not take a 'one-size-fits-all' approach, but allow for case-by-case adjustments depending on local environmental factors while maintaining water quality.

But Keyes-Fleming also said the actual numbers haven't changed much from those proposed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection two years ago. The process started in 2008 when the Florida Wildlife Federation sued the state of Florida because it wanted more specific standards for nutrient pollution. Prior to these rules, the state's standards were "narrative" rather than "specific or numeric".

"These numeric standards draw heavily on the technical expertise of Florida Department of Environmental Protection and align closely with draft standards put forward by the State two years ago," Keyes-Fleming said. "The state has done excellent work and developed extensive information on the condition of Florida's waters.  EPA spent months in close collaboration with FDEP and crafted the new standards on the best available, independently reviewed science."

From an agricultural perspective, Keyes-Fleming said the new rules don't impact nonpoint sources, which applies to most agricultural operations. The new rules also don't expand the water bodies regulated under the Clean Water Act. The rules impact Class I and III waters. Agricultural drainage ditches, as an example, are Class IV.

A closer look at the rules posted on the EPA Website, http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/rulesregs/florida_index.cfm, show some additional agricultural impacts. For instance, a nonpoint source near waters that do not meet the new criteria could be required to take additional precautions.

"For agricultural operations in these areas, FDEP and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services may require additional nonpoint source control procedures to limit runoff of fertilizers and animal wastes, i.e., best management practices in order to attain the numeric nutrient criteria that support state-designated uses," according to the Frequently Asked Questions portion of the EPA's Website.

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, which often are required to have a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, also will be impacted.

"Since NPDES permits must be written to meet water quality standards, these permits may need to be revised based on the new numeric nutrient criteria," according to the EPA Website. "EPA is not aware of any other agricultural activities regulated under [the Clean Water Act] that will be impacted by the final rule.

However, preserving agriculture is not the focus of these new regulations. The state and federal agencies are focused on preserving home values and tourism in the state.

"These standards are the culmination of a process that began in the previous administration, and an effort to confront a serious environmental problem that not only jeopardizes the health and quality of life of its citizens but also, as I said earlier, the economic stability of Florida," Keyes-Fleming said. "Businesses, hotels and tourist attractions operating near harmful algae blooms run the risk of losing customers when waters are too fouled for swimming or fishing."

The cost of implementing the standards is between $130 and $200 million, Keyes-Fleming said, or $40 to $71 per household per year.

Florida Governor-elect Rick Scott and incoming state agricultural commissioner Adam Putnam oppose the new rules.