A pollution warning sign along the Caloosahatchee River (Pic by Florida Water Coalition)

In a newly produced handout, environmental groups argue that a new set of water pollution standards drafted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection are so poor that they “would actually be less protective than no numeric nutrient standards.”

The handout, which expresses the views of the organizations that make up the Florida Water Coalition, lists the “myths” surrounding the department’s version of the so-called “numeric nutrient criteria,” which were mandated by the EPA. The criteria aim to protect Florida waterways from nutrient-laden effluent (from household fertilizers and industrial waste), which often contributes to widespread algal blooms and fish kills. Though the EPA was set to draft its own set of standards to be implemented in Florida, the agency recently agreed to allow the state to develop its own standards, which the EPA must still approve.

According to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s Jennifer Hecker, the primary author of the handout, the state’s version of the standards are so poor, in fact, that they are pointless. “The DEP is proposing alternative standards that would actually be less protective than no numeric nutrient standards,” writes Hecker.

The idea that the department’s numeric standards are as protective as those outlined in the federal rule, argues the Coalition, is simply not true.

“DEP’s standards might appear as protective – since the number limits are similar to EPA’s, but DEP’s implementation approach does not trigger enforcement or corrective actions – rendering those numbers meaningless,” reads the handout. “Instead of preventing algae blooms and other manifestations of biologically unhealthy conditions, the DEP rule actually requires the system to become very unhealthy and polluted before requiring any water quality improvements.”

The groups also argue against claims that the state’s rule will be less expensive to implement than the EPA’s criteria. Instead, they say the department rules will prove more costly, because the state approach requires additional studies be performed to assess an imbalance in biological conditions.

Other problems with the proposed rules? They don’t sufficiently protect downstream waters and they weren’t well vetted with input from either the public or stakeholders.

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