An algal bloom in the Caloosahatchee River in 2005 (Pic by Florida Water Coalition)

The Florida Department of Environmental protection will hold a public workshop on Tuesday to discuss a set of water pollution standards that would govern nutrients in state waterways. The “numeric nutrient criteria” aim to lessen nutrient loads in both inland waterways and estuaries but, as recent comments by Environmental Protection officials suggest, the criteria are not yet set in stone.

The department is developing its own nutrient standards as a way around a hotly contested set of water pollution rules currently mandated by the federal EPA. Earlier this year, the state department petitioned the EPA to let the state develop its own criteria, and the EPA agreed. But the standards must still be vetted by the EPA.

The standards will come in two parts: Those governing inland waters are slated to go into effect in March 2012, and those governing estuaries will be in effect in November 2011. Thus far, the state has been more concerned with the inland water rules, and new comments by the department’s director of environmental assessment and restoration reveal that the estuarine standards may be dropped entirely.

Since the standards effecting estuaries will be implemented in just one month, the state doesn’t have much time. In a recent interview with Naples News, the Department of Environmental Protection’s Drew Bartlett said that the state is indeed drafting standards for some specific estuaries, but hasn’t decided whether or not to move forward with them.

From the Naples News:

“That time frame does compress deliberation (of the DEP proposal),” said Drew Bartlett, director of the DEP’s Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration.

Bartlett said the DEP has been working with the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program and other estuary programs to devise nutrient standards for their estuaries.

“We know we have the science and information ready on those now,” Bartlett said.

He said a final decision hasn’t been made on whether to move forward with the estuary standards, which could be dropped “if it turns out there are issues.”

The department is holding a public workshop to discuss the criteria on Tuesday at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. The department will allow for a two-week written comment period following the workshop before finalizing the proposed standards.

The standards will then be submitted to the state’s Environmental Resource Commission for review in November, voted on in December and then sent to the Legislature for ratification during the upcoming 2012 legislative session.

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