An all-day public workshop on Florida’s hotly contested water pollution standards held Tuesday brought up several concerns about the efficacy, and accuracy, of the state’s proposed rule.
It’s becoming increasingly obvious that Florida needs stricter rules to govern pollution in its waterways — nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen (which come from failing septic tanks, home fertilizers and industry effluent) lead to wide-scale algal blooms, which choke off oxygen to other marine life, and lead to widespread fish kills and no-swim zones. But the question of where the stricter standards will come from — the state or the feds? — has yet to be answered.
During Tuesday’s public workshop, state environmental regulators were pressed about the portion of the proposal that would affect estuaries. The state Department of Environmental Protection is hoping to finalize its standards in time to get approval from the EPA, who has drafted its own set of standards, which some argue would be too expensive to implement.
Environmental advocates questioned whether the proposed DEP nutrient standards for estuaries from Tampa Bay to the Florida Keys, including in Collier and Lee counties, were strict enough; local government officials wanted to know how they would be required to comply with them.
In response to criticism about how the standards were derived, DEP officials suggested some estuaries _ including Naples Bay _ might not get numeric limits proposed just yet.
“We’re not planning to move forward until we have scientifically defensible criteria,” said DEP bureau chief Daryll Joyner.
Some environmentalists present at the workshop shared their worries that the nutrient rules wouldn’t be enough to thwart unhealthy conditions in waterbodies. Others said they feel the department’s proposal to allow one violation every five years based on an annual average and allow no violations based on a five-year average simply isn’t enough.
Certain waterbodies, like the St. Johns and Caloosahatchee rivers, have been particularly susceptible to algal blooms and fish kills. This past summer saw a massive algal blooms so bad that many residents complained it lowered property values and hurt the bottom line of small businesses in the area. (Though the bloom has since dissipated, officials warned residents against swimming and fishing in the river.)
In its electronically submitted feedback (.pdf) on the proposal, Lee County reps expressed concerns about the accuracy of some portions of the proposal.
“Lee County believes that the biological and other evaluation tools used to define Nutrient Water Regions (‘NWR’) is incomplete, and possibly inaccurate,” they write. “There have been no stream condition or lake vegetation indices developed for South Florida. Moreover, wetland health indices have not been developed. While South Florida has a number of canals that must be accounted for there are many natural stream, wetland, coastal marsh and tidal mangrove areas that have not been considered. As a result, these natural areas have no paired biological data for developing numeric nutrient criteria.”
One of the so-called Nutrient Water Regions is the Caloosahatchee, which Lee County suggests is not an appropriate designation:
It is Lee County’s contention that the Caloosahatchee River has not been placed in an appropriate NWR because there are no valid biological evaluation tools available for the watershed. Lee County does not believe that the existing Peninsular NWR evaluation criteria are applicable to the Caloosahatchee River because of the lack of these tools. As such, the Caloosahatchee basin should be part of the South Florida NWR.
The Department of Environmental Protection’s numeric nutrient criteria will 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.