August 2, 2010
Dear PURRE Members:
The hard-won pollution limits that will curb sewage and fertilizer pollution in Florida are under threat this week as lobbyists are trying to get Congress to put a stop to the Environmental Protection Agency's implementation of the Numeric Nutrient Criteria we fought so hard to win.
We couldn't say it better than the Sierra Club email below. Please take action today. Thank you for helping to protect Florida's waters - and thank you to the Sierra Club for this excellent communication.
Michael J. Valiquette, PURRE Chairman
Emilie Alfino, PURRE Exec. Director
April 28, 2010
Last week, the PURRE Water Coalition submitted these written comments to the Environmental Protection Agency in support of its proposal to assign specific numeric standards to the amount of nutrient pollution that is allowed to flow into Florida’s lakes, rivers and other flowing waters (standards for estuaries will be developed in the near future).
Florida has 7,700 lakes, 50,000 miles of rivers and streams, 4,000 square miles of estuaries, and more than 700 freshwater springs. So far, over 500 waters are identified as impaired because of phosphorus or nitrogen pollution, representing approximately 1,000 miles of rivers and streams, 350,000 acres of lakes, and 900 square miles of estuaries.
Today, only a narrative statement exists in state regulations to protect our waters. There is no specific language setting forth standards and really no way to enforce such a subjective regulation. Setting numeric criteria will provide a target and a way to enforce that target to restore waters to a healthy condition and to limit nutrient sources before problems start so currently healthy waters do not become impaired.
Below is the letter PURRE submitted in support of these proposed new regulations. We recognize that the science behind the numbers must be sound and work remains to be done, but the EPA proposal is a good start.
PURRE’s Letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:
I am submitting these comments on behalf of the PURRE Water Coalition Foundation’s 1,085 members in support of the EPA’s Proposed Numeric Nutrient Criteria (Proposed Water Quality Standards for the State of Florida’s Lakes and Flowing Waters).
PURRE (People United to Restore our Rivers and Estuaries) has members from all walks of life: business owners, workers, individuals, environmentalists, farmers, anglers, Republicans, Democrats, liberals, and conservatives. All of them are alarmed at what has happened to the water quality in South Florida and are determined to keep speaking out until we achieve the necessary change to stop the degradation of our marine environment –which inevitably destroys our quality of life in every way, economically as well as environmentally.
The narrative standards we have in place today clearly are insufficient. The proof? Water that years ago was azure and teeming with marine plant and animal life is now murky and filled with dead plant life choking for oxygen and covered with algae; we suffer regular fish kills and harmful algae blooms threatening the health and well-being not only of marine life but of human beings as well. Our economy takes a hit; our property values plummet.
It is time – long past time – to implement specific numeric standards based on sound science. We understand the development of numeric nutrient criteria is a process that will and should evolve over time and believe the EPA’s pending proposal is a good start. Of great importance is the fact that enforcement is much more difficult without numeric standards; who is to say whether someone is adhering to a narrative standard that is merely uses the word “reasonable,” a subjective term that begs for argument?
Some are complaining about the cost of complying with the new regulations, but the cost of complying is relatively small by comparison to the damage to our economy and the jobs crisis caused in great part by the effects of the deterioration to our water and our beaches. And the costs are successfully being borne elsewhere and successfully; for example, in the Chesapeake Bay area.
Cost-effective solutions exist, and where they do not, PURRE believes that these regulations will breed innovation. Those who deny it and cry, “This will put us out of business,” are simply using scare tactics to prevent the EPA from doing what it must to begin the process that will help save Florida’s invaluable lakes and waterways. What’s more, the cost of cleanup after the damage is done is incalculably higher than the cost of prevention. The sooner we act, the less expensive this vital endeavor will be for everyone.
For all these reasons, and simply because it is the right and ethical thing to do, PURRE asks the EPA, without delay, to adopt its Proposed Numeric Nutrient Criteria (Proposed Water Quality Standards for the State of Florida’s Lakes and Flowing Waters; Federal Register/Vol. 75, No. 16/Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2010, pp. 4174-226). Thank you for the opportunity to submit written comments, and for your time and attention.
Michael J. Valiquette, ChairmanPURRE Water Coalition Foundation, Inc.
It’s Time To End The Slime
A Primer On EPA’s Proposed Rule
To End Sewage, Fertilizer And Animal Manure Pollution
Of Florida’s Waters:
The Problem, Its Causes, And Practical Solutions
The Florida Water Coalition
Note: Thank you to The Florida Water Coalition for this summary.
In 2008, testing by the Florida Department of Environmental
Protection revealed that 1,000 miles of the state’s rivers and streams, 350,000 acres of Florida’s lakes and 900 square miles of its estuaries were contaminated by sewage, fertilizer or manure pollution.
“The actual number of miles
and acres of waters impaired [by these pollutants] is likely
higher,” the DEP noted, “as many waters that have yet to
be assessed may also be impaired.” All across Florida, the
effects of this pollution can be felt and these effects jeopardize
public health, our ability to swim and boat in lakes and rivers, and undermine our tourist economy.
Algae outbreaks plague many of our lakes, rivers and springs. The outbreaks can make boating and swimming
dangerous or impossible, result in massive fish kills, and cause permanent reductions in waterfront
property values. From coast to coast, Floridians are horrified to see their beloved lakes and rivers turn to green slime. For example, almost the whole Caloosahatchee River in Southwest Florida recently suffered a massive blue-green algae outbreak. The St. Lucie River and estuary
also suffered a massive toxic algae outbreak which
caused a permanent loss of a half billion dollars in waterfront
Some of these algae outbreaks can be toxic. Exposure to
toxic algae can cause rashes, skin and eye irritation, allergic
reactions and gastrointestinal upset. Swimming can cause
serious illness or even death if water is ingested. Some algae
are known tumor promoters, producing “neurotoxins”
which interfere with nerve cell function and “hepatotoxins”
which attack the liver.
During the St. Lucie River outbreak, the
County Health Department posted signs warning against contact with the water. Visitors to Wakulla
Springs – for a century hailed as one of Florida’s Crown Jewels – reported getting skin rashes after swimming in the spring. The rashes were attributed to toxic algae triggered by sewage pollution.
over twenty similar incidents were reported at Ichetucknee
Springs. There, the outbreak was from unregulated manure
from industrial dairy operations. For the past several years,
major portions of the St. Johns River suffered from a massive
toxic blue-green algae outbreak which was dubbed “The Green
Monster” for the fluorescent green slime created on the surface
of the water. Toxin levels were recorded at 50 – 140 times
above the World Health Organization’s recommended limits
and many people reported respiratory problems, raw throats,
and irritated eyes. Boat traffic on stretches of the St. Johns
River has had to be shut down due to algae outbreaks.
The effects are by no means limited to freshwaters. Red tide
and red drift algae have been linked to nutrient pollution on
The stench produced by red drift algae smells like raw sewage
and drives away beachgoers. Red tide causes respiratory
problems and often results in closed beaches during the tourist
season. These closures have a devastating effect on the
tourist economy because most beachgoers come from outof-
state or from Europe and return home with horror stories
about Florida beaches.
Fertilizer, sewage and animal manure pollution can also endanger
drinking water. Algae outbreaks are drawn into water
intake pipes and attempts to disinfect the algae-laden water often
cause the algae to suddenly release dangerous toxins. In June 2008, a water treatment plant serving 30,000 people was forced to shut down after a toxic blue-green algae outbreak on the Caloosahatchee River made the drinking water plant unusable.
The cost of upgrading one single drinking water plant in California to address
drinking water contamination caused by nutrient-fueled algae outbreaks
was over $200 million.
Even after sterilization and removal of solids, sewage effluent still
contains very high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen – the essential components of fertilizer. Insufficiently treated sewage effluent is often allowed to be discharged directly into rivers or piped into near-shore coastal areas.
The result is a ready food source for nuisance species such as algae. Even
the solid residue of water treatment, known as sludge or “biosolids,” contains very high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen. Often this sludge residue is disposed of on land or marketed as fertilizer. When it rains, sludge gets washed into rivers and lakes, where it acts as a potent fertilizer.
Floridians use huge amounts of fertilizer to keep their yards
green. Florida’s agricultural sector also applies vast amounts of fertilizer on everything from tomatoes to pine trees. And then there’s the golf courses!
Most fertilizer is applied at the wrong time and in excessive
amounts. As a result, most of it is washed off into rivers, lakes and estuaries. Fertilizing in the summer rainy season is almost the same as dumping fertilizer directly into the nearest stream. The result is like
Miracle-Gro for algae.
Florida agricultural operations include large numbers
of industrial-scale dairy operations and huge beef cattle calving
operations. These operations produce massive amounts of manure.
When manure is not correctly handled on site, it washes
into groundwater and streams when it rains. This problem is
compounded by the fact that cattle like to congregate around
streams and lakes and seek shade under trees that grow near
the edges of water. This means large amounts of manure are
deposited at the water’s edge or even directly in the water.
The manure water then triggers algae outbreaks downstream.
Sewage isn’t treated well enough.
Cow manure pollutes rivers and lakes.
Fertilizer is applied to lawns and agricultural operations.
Most of it is washed off by rainfall.
The Proposed EPA Rule
EPA’s proposed numeric nutrient rule provides standards for lakes,
streams, springs and clear streams, and canals. It also contains nitrogen
standards for estuaries consistent with the freshwater standards.
Despite the claims made by the rule’s detractors, EPA is not
taking a one-size-fits-all approach. Lakes are categorized into three
groups (colored, clear & alkaline, clear & acidic) and specific standards
are proposed for each group.
For streams, EPA is proposing
four different watershed-based regions within Florida with different
nitrogen and phosphorous criteria for each region. EPA also
took into account the need to protect downstream water bodies by
proposing equations that would be used to further limit nutrient
levels when necessary to protect downstream lakes and estuaries.
For springs and clear streams, EPA is proposing a nitrate-nitrite
criterion that would prevent nuisance algae. The rule also proposes
nitrogen and phosphorus limits for South Florida canals.
In order to allow time for affected polluters to implement the necessary measures to comply with the new
rules, EPA is proposing a new water quality regulatory approach called a “restoration standard.” This approach
would allow Florida to set incremental water quality stair steps for nutrients that will be stepped down over time to achieve the required ultimate nutrient limit. If a water body does not meet the stair step
level for nitrogen or phosphorus at the end of each stair step, the restoration standard would be terminated and the ultimate nitrogen and phosphorus limits would apply immediately. This method would allow
polluters the time needed to adjust to the new rule while ensuring that each stair step is complied with.
EPA has also proposed a site-specific criterion which is an alternative water quality standard that protects
the lake or stream and is based on sound science but is tailored to a specific site where special natural conditions
may exist. These criteria may be more or less stringent than the applicable general nutrient standard
and allow for scientific considerations to bring added precision to the necessary nutrient standard at
that specific location. This approach would add even more flexibility and make certain that good science is
being considered in on-the-ground decision-making.
The Consent Decree
EPA has proposed the new nutrient standards as a
result of a lawsuit by conservationists. Currently,
Florida has an unenforceable narrative nutrient
standard that says that nutrients can’t cause a
biological “imbalance.” This is like posting a speed
limit sign on I-75 that reads “Drive At A Reasonable
Speed Considering Weather, Traffic and
Lighting Conditions As Well As Other Relevant Factors.” Numeric standards are like speed limit signs with numbers on them—like “SPEED LIMIT 55 MPH.”
After watching algae
outbreaks threaten water
bodies across Florida
and uncovering EPA documents which stated explicitly that numeric nutrient standards were necessary under the Clean Water Act, Earthjustice sued EPA on behalf of Florida Wildlife Federation, Sierra
Club, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Environmental Confederation
of Southwest Florida, and St. Johns Riverkeeper.
The suit sought to require EPA
to promptly set numeric
standards. The Florida
Department of Agriculture,
the South Florida
District, the Phosphate Mining and Sewage Utilities Councils, and
many associations of farming and industrial polluters intervened in
opposition to the establishment of numeric limits.
After extensive negotiations,
EPA entered into
a settlement agreement
with the conservationists. Finding that sewage, fertilizer, and animal
waste pollution have worsened or not been reduced from unacceptably high levels, the federal court found that Florida’s narrative standards had not solved the problem. Thus the federal court entered a Consent Decree, meaning that it approved the settlement as fair, reasonable and in the public interest.
The Consent Decree requires
EPA to finalize numeric standards for lakes and streams by October 2010 and to finalize standards for estuaries
a year later. The court’s order forecloses the argument that EPA can abandon or postpone setting enforceable numeric standards for Florida.
Floridians love to keep beautiful yards,
but applying too much fertilizer means that huge
amounts of fertilizer are washed into streams, lakes
and estuaries every time it rains. Runoff from fertilizer in residential areas causes a third of the problem.
In most of Florida, no fertilizer at all is needed to
have a beautiful lawn. What’s worse, three-fourths of
it washes off when it rains, meaning that most of it is
wasted. That’s why many counties and cities in Florida
have adopted Smart Fertilizer ordinances that ban lawn fertilizer during the summer rainy season.
ordinances also encourage planting of native trees
and shrubs that need no fertilizer. Homeowners save
money and don’t have to pay local government taxes
for new expensive water treatment systems for stormwater polluted by fertilizer. While a pound of nitrogen
fertilizer costs only about $5, the cost of a water cleanup project for nitrogen pollution is $225 per pound of nitrogen. Smart Fertilizer rules save everybody money.
Cleaning up polluted waterways can be expensive, so the best way to treat nutrient pollution is to eliminate it at its source. This means being smarter about how we use fertilizer on our farms.
The only fertilizer that runs into lakes and rivers is fertilizer that’s wasted. Properly applied, it is supposed to be used by the plants. All that fertilizer runoff wastes money too. Instead of this waste, farms need to implement smart fertilizer practices. These include: 1) controlling runoff on farms; 2) performing scientific soil testing– down to where the roots actually reach - to determine the actual needs of crops; 3) applying fertilizer only to the root zone of the plants; and 4) applying fertilizer only in the amount needed by the plant.
required fertilizer to be used more carefully on our farms, we
could go a long way toward protecting our waters without
wasting money on unnecessary fertilizer or costly restoration
Better Sewage Treatment.
The claim that it will take over $50
billion to upgrade our sewage treatment plants to comply
with the new rule is claptrap. Upgrading all the sewage treatment
plants in the entire United States (including federal
grants, state contributions, and leveraged bonds) from 1988
to 2007 only cost $58 billion.
The $50 billion claim is based on treatment by reverse osmosis – the method Saudi Arabia uses to convert sea water to fresh water!
Some wastewater treatment
plants will have to spend serious money to clean up
their act. That’s because these plants are now allowed to
dump effluent that hasn’t been filtered and treated very well.
Some have no permit limits on their phosphorus and nitrogen
discharges at all. Others with spray fields in North and Central Florida will need much better treatment for nutrients because of underground connections to springs and rivers.
But most plants in Florida would only need add-ons that use
chemical treatment or biological uptake systems. Extremely
low levels can be attained with these processes. For most of
these, capital costs would be about $1.50 to $2.00 per gallon
capacity with a few cents per gallon per month in operating
and maintenance costs. The new standards will also be phased in as permits come up for renewal.
So instead of the scary numbers opponents to the rule throw around,
more likely to cost a few dollars extra per person per month
phased in over several years, and it is likely that there would
be state and federal money to help out with these costs.
alternative of not establishing protective numeric standards
for our streams, lakes and estuaries will only make the problems
worse and the cleanup more expensive.
Better Manure Management.
Some dairy operations
have thousands of cows that each generate
140 pounds of manure per day. These massive amounts of manure should be disposed of responsibly.
Manure - including wash water from barn floors
- should be dried and recycled as fertilizer or disposed
of in land fills. Otherwise, manure moves
through ground and surface water to contaminate springs and downstream waters. A major source of cow manure is from cow calf operations where manure washes into rivers and streams.
management districts and the state Department of
Environmental Protection should require cow calf operations to fence cows out of streams and rivers and require the construction of shade structures such as pole barns. Cows eat in the open pastures and then
congregate in the shady areas near water as they digest grass. Large amounts of manure accumulate in these areas. The construction of shade roofs provides the cows with shade away from the water and concentrates manure in a place where it can be removed with
Controlling manure at the source saves taxpayers
money in the long term by avoiding clean-up
costs and the cost of multibillion dollar pollution treatment
St. Petersburg Times: Toward Clean Water
Nov. 23, 2009
“The state has sat on its hands for 11 years while runoff from farms, sewer plants, golf courses and homes has put the environment, public health and the tourist economy at risk…Public waterways should not be
dumping grounds for industrial waste. Clean water has a cost - but so do polluted springs, closed beaches, toxic rivers and tainted drinking water supplies…The nutrient limits should help reduce pollution in the short
term and force regulators and manufacturers to rethink how Florida farms, builds and disposes of its sewage and industrial waste.”
Miami Herald: New EPA Water Rules Worth Every Penny
Jan. 20, 2010
“Despite the opposition of a coalition of agriculture and business groups, state residents should support the EPA's proposals. It's in the interests of every Floridian to have healthy estuaries, rivers, lakes, streams and
canals, which not only are used for recreation but also supply some communities' drinking water. Polluted streams and rivers can contaminate offshore fish hatcheries, too, threatening commercial and recreational
The Tampa Tribune: Clean Water Won't Hurt Economy
Dec. 3, 2009
“This widespread contamination is a far bigger threat to Florida's economy than water-quality rules. And the feds would not have gotten involved if the state had addressed the situation.”
Florida Times-Union: Nutrient Limits For St. Johns River Are Essential To Its Health
Nov. 17, 2009
“…the EPA action will help protect our greatest natural resource, the St. Johns River, and finally force polluters to clean up their acts instead of treating the river as a sewer.” – Ron Littlepage
TC Palm: Thumbs Up: Government To Set Standards For Assuring Clean Water
Nov. 20, 2009
“The Treasure Coast has experienced the results of pollution from urban and agricultural runoff for many years. With scientific restrictions on pollution, perhaps an end is in sight and the clean water, which should
be a right for the citizens of this region and state, will become reality.”
Florida Today: Clean Water Victory; Court Ruling Big Step In Protecting Florida, Brevard County Waters
Nov. 22, 2009
“Opponents will likely continue fighting the new rules, but the Obama administration and courts should stand fast and protect Florida’s waters.”
Daytona Beach News Journal: Nutrient Overload: Cleaning Polluted Surface Waters No 'Burden' To Florida
Dec. 8, 2009
“In a state much favored with surface water, citizens shouldn't have to sue their government to assure those waters run clean. Florida's commerce can prosper without destroying its springs, lakes, rivers and estuaries. That is the point of the federal (Clean Water) Act. It should be the result of strict EPA standards and welcome compliance by Florida's business and agricultural community.”
Orlando Sentinel: Feds’ Water Grab Is Coming, and We Might Deserve It
Feb. 20, 2010
“Listening to the lobbyists complain about the lack of scientific justification for the EPA action is amusing for those of us who have grown up here. I don't need a study to see what we have done to our most important resource.”
BOTH SIDES CHEER EPA EXTENSION ON
NEW WATER REGS, FOR DIFFERENT REASONS
By KEITH LAING
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE
Both sides of a fight over new water quality regulations for Florida are cheering a decision by federal officials to extend the comment period on the proposal, though they did not see eye-to-eye on what the flood of extra time would mean for the plan.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has extended the period for public comment on the water standards, which the agency has telegraphed would be toughened, for 30 days.
“This extension of the allotted comment period will allow DEP as well as Florida scientists and water quality managers to thoroughly engage in assessing and commenting on the proposed criteria,” state Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller said in a statement. “It is critical that those who are knowledgeable of Florida waters share information on the state’s unique ecosystems with EPA scientists to best inform their decisions in the future.”
State Rep. Dave Murzin, R-Pensacola, had asked the state’s Congressional Delegation to push for the delay so more residents could speak out against the proposed new rules. Murzin has held town halls in his district on the proposal independent of the EPA’s recent public hearings and said the decision by the EPA to agree was an apparent victory.
He said that 90 other state House members had signed onto the letter.
“Across the state, this could potentially quadruple the cost of water,” Murzin said in an interview. “That’s a lot to ask in downturned economy, so anytime we can forestall that, it is a good thing.”
But Florida Clean Water Network director Linda Young, who has argued that threats about increased costs associated with the EPA proposal have been exaggerated, also saw the decision to extend the comment period as a good thing.
“That’s the one thing everybody agreed on, that we needed more time,” she told the News Service. “I’m always a big advocate for public participation and anything that gives people the opportunity to have their voices heard.”
At issue is an EPA proposal to set limits on the amount of pollution in state bodies of water containing the chemicals phosphorous and nitrogen. The plan is the result of a lengthy legal fight between the state, which argues that the standards would be unfair because they would only be applied to Florida, and environmentalists, who sued state regulators for failing to enforce the federal Clean Water Act.
A federal court agreed with the environmentalists, issuing a consent decree that numeric water quality standards for inland waters had to be established, as opposed to existing “narrative” standards, which are enforced on a case-by-case basis. Under the EPA plan, Florida waters would be grouped with different nutrient allotments depending on the characteristic of the water.
The proposed standards, while not complete, have angered the state’s business and farming communities, who argue they would be expensive to comply with.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has sided with the state’s business and farming communities and had planned to discuss its own proposed numeric standards next week, but the department postponed the meeting until April 7 in light of the EPA extension Thursday.
The EPA plans to use the extra time to hold three additional public hearings on the proposed regulations. Hearings were held last month in the Panhandle, central and south Florida.
Both Young and Murzin see different uses for the extra time. Young said it would give environmentalists more time to dissect the EPA proposal and it would also give federal officials more time to respond to objections like the ones raised by Murzin.
“The rule itself is 75 or 180 pages, depending on which version you read, so a whole bunch of us are working together to try to do comments, get scientists (to testify) and figure out the loopholes they have built into it,” Young said. “The timing they (initially) gave us wasn’t enough to do that.”
Murzin, however, said the extra time would allow the EPA to reconsider its proposal.
“We’re basically saying give us a little bit more time and see if we can get some
scientific evidence before we do something willy nilly,” he said.
Young said that time would eventually run out though, because the EPA was being compelled to act by the federal court.
“The EPA is trying to stay in line with the consent degree,” she said. “Polluters want to delay because they think somehow it will give them an opportunity to put political pressure on the Congressional delegation and whatever other avenues they are going through, but every Congressman in the world won’t be able to stop it. There’s a court order. It’s going to happen.”
February 9, 2010
Dear PURRE Member:
As you know, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new limits to the levels of nutrients allowed to pollute Florida’s waters. These numeric limits would reduce pollution from stormwater runoff full of fertilizer and other poisons and sewage overflows in our state.
The proposed new limits are a big step toward cleaning up our rivers, bays and estuaries. Florida must take this step, but opposition is already pressuring the EPA to weaken or eliminate its proposed pollution limits.
To help protect Florida’s waters, we’re asking PURRE members to send their comments to the EPA in support of its strong, historic action – an action the agency has never before taken in any other state. Tell the EPA that you support its proposed new pollution limits and urge them to move forward to implement them.
You can cut and paste the below text, add your own comments as you see fit, and email your message to the EPA at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for taking the time to help.
Michael J. Valiquette, PURRE Chairman
To: Environmental Protection Agency
Re: Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2009-0596 Florida’s economy and its water are inseparably linked. Florida residents’ lifestyles and its water are also inseparably linked. Yet stormwater runoff full of poison from agricultural operations and fertilized landscapes is allowed to drain untreated into our water. Overflow from sewage and septic systems foul our water. Disgusting and dangerous algae outbreaks plague Florida's beaches, lakes, rivers, and estuaries more each year, killing wildlife, ruining vacations, closing swimming areas.
This is a dangerous reality for a state with an economy based on tourism and water-based recreation; the pollution is clearly damaging Florida's economy.
(Your name and address here)
January 27, 2010
Miami Herald Editorial
New EPA water rules worth every penny
Few things are more deadly to a healthy watery ecosystem than algae, much of which comes from nutrients in fertilizers and pollutants that wash from the land into waterways during rainstorms.
Remember when Lake Apopka, once a center for bass fishing in Central Florida, was essentially declared dead, devoid of qualities that could support living organisms? The culprit was land pollution, most notably phosphorus and nitrogen.
Lake Apopka is once again reasonably healthy, thanks to intense cleanup efforts and improved water-quality standards.
Now the Environmental Protection Agency proposes new, tougher statewide standards that would ensure there would be no more Lake Apopka travesties.
Despite the opposition of a coalition of agriculture and business groups, state residents should support the EPA's proposals.
It's in the interests of every Floridian to have healthy estuaries, rivers, lakes, streams and canals, which not only are used for recreation but also supply some communities' drinking water.
Polluted streams and rivers can contaminate offshore fish hatcheries, too, threatening commercial and recreational fishing industries.
Last year the EPA settled a lawsuit with five environmental organizations by agreeing to set higher water-quality standards to limit nutrients. The suit was filed in 2008 after the Florida Department of Environmental Protection reported that half of the state's rivers and more than half of its lakes had poor water quality.
Florida has never had very good water-quality standards. Phosphorus and other pollutants from agriculture and other industries, as well as runoff from ever-growing urban areas, was allowed to be dumped at dangerous rates into waterways.
About a decade ago the EPA gave Florida a 2004 deadline to set tougher pollution limits, but the state was slow to comply. Worse, during the Bush administration, the EPA relaxed its own rules, allowing states to set standards.
The lawsuit challenged both the EPA and the DEP, calling for stronger protections for the state's waterways. Not long after the Obama administration came into power, the EPA chose to settle the suit -- to everyone's ultimate benefit.
In the short term the new proposed standards will cost businesses and local governments a lot of money to comply. But the EPA is giving Florida time to create a procedure to gradually phase in compliance and even to set its own standards in certain areas.
The EPA proposals, which are set to go into effect in October, are not that different from new standards the DEP was working on when the settlement was announced last year. One way or another, either through the state or the feds, tougher water-quality rules were inevitable in Florida -- because they are very much needed to keep the state's waters healthy for all to use and enjoy.
The EPA is seeking public comments on the proposed standards for the next 60 days. Go to www.epa.gov/waterscience/standards/rules/florida/
Published: Friday, January 22, 2010
EPA Steps In on Water Quality
The plot is thickening on the little environmental drama that has been building for several years in Florida. It has pitted environmental groups who are tired of watching the algae and muck thicken in Florida's waterways against state environmental officials whose only response was to construct some Byzantine system that didn't really get the job done, egged on by commercial interests who were even more uninterested in change.
I'm talking about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's announcement that it plans to impose numerical pollution standards on phosphorous and nitrogen concentrations in Florida water bodies.The standards also dictate how algae-green the water can become.
To read some of the statements from the business community and public utilities in recent weeks, you'd think this was an unexpected bolt from the blue.In fact, it's a much belated effort to enforce a 38-year-old federal law called the Clean Water Act.
Also, some of the claims that were trumpeted by critics in advance of the release of the EPA's 197-page proposed standards, such as it would be a one-size-fits-all statewide approach, did not materialize.For instance, phosphorus limits in this part of Florida are more lax because there's so much naturally occurring phosphate that a lower level would be unrealistic and serve no environmental purpose.
Now will come the interesting part.The EPA published the proposal to get comments, and I expect the agency will get plenty.Three public meetings, including one Feb. 17 in Orlando, are planned, though I suspect the really substantive comments will be submitted in writing.
The EPA's not imposing these pollution limits voluntarily.It took a lawsuit by a number of environmental groups, notably the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club, to make this happen.
I think anyone who has lived in Florida for decades and spends time on the water knows the lakes and rivers aren't what they used to be.The EPA document answers two key questions:
How widespread is the pollution?
EPA officials say 1,000 miles of rivers and streams, 350,000 acres of lakes, and 900 square miles of estuaries are too polluted to meet minimal water-quality standards. And those are just from the ones for which scientists have good water quality data.
Is the pollution really that serious?
EPA officials say this type of pollution can damage drinking water sources and increase exposure to harmful algal blooms that are made of toxic microbes. This can cause damage to the nervous system or even cause death. Another danger is the formation of by-products in drinking water from disinfection chemicals, some of which have been linked with serious human illnesses such as bladder cancer.
Sewer plant discharges, stormwater runoff from city streets, and runoff from farms and ranches have combined to cause the problem. And Florida's future growth isn't going to make the situation any better.
Although much of the drumbeat against the regulations comes from industries, and cities and counties that operate systems responsible for much of the pollution, we're all in this together. We all contribute to water pollution in small ways, but the cumulative effect is large.
The bill for fixing the problem will fall on all of us.Don't be surprised if something extra shows up on your tax bill someday soon to deal with this. Some cities, such as Winter Haven and Lakeland, already have stormwater utility taxes. Polk County never enacted one, choosing instead to divert money from other sources to pay for projects.
The time has come to have a specific source of money to pay for the work. In that respect, the critics, who have been characterizing this as a "water tax" have a point, though there's another way to look at it. If you used their reasoning, you'd call code enforcement a "housing tax." After all, there's little real difference between cracking down on environmental blight and cracking down on housing blight.The longer you wait, the worse it gets.
To see the proposal, go to www.epa.gov/waterscience/standards/rules/florida/
END THIS ARTICLE
Posted on Sat, Jan. 16, 2010
EPA's plan to set water-quality standards
in Florida, a national first
BY JOHN FRANK
In a move cheered by environmental groups, the federal government on Friday proposed stringent limits on ``nutrient'' pollution allowed to foul Florida's waterways.
The ruling -- which will cost industries and governments more than a billion dollars to comply -- marks the first time the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has intervened to set a state's water-quality standards.
“I'm thrilled,'' said Linda Young, director of the Clean Water Network, an advocacy group. ``It is something that will ultimately start restoring Florida's waters.''
The agency issued the proposed regulations after reaching a settlement in August with five environmental groups that sued the federal government in 2008 for not enforcing the Clean Water Act in Florida.
The caps on phosphorus and nitrogen levels in Florida's lakes, rivers, streams, springs and canals would replace the state's vague ``narrative'' approach to monitoring the effects of waste and fertilizer runoff, which the EPA deemed insufficient. The proposed rule includes provisions giving the EPA oversight authority to enforce the standards.
In Florida, 16 percent of rivers, 36 percent of lakes and 25 percent of estuaries are considered impaired, according to a 2008 report. Nutrient pollution is the most prevalent water-pollution problem in the state, contributing to algae blooms that kill fish and cause respiratory problems and infections among boaters and beachgoers. It also causes economic damage to property values, tourism and commercial fishing.
“New water-quality standards will help protect and restore inland waters that are a critical part of Florida's history, culture and economic prosperity,'' said Peter S. Silva, assistant administrator in the EPA's Office of Water, in a statement.
More than 10 years ago, the EPA told states to set limits on nutrient pollution.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection spent eight years collecting data and planned to present a draft proposal to a group of scientists and industry representatives last August. But the department abandoned the effort when the federal government interceded.
The EPA proposed standards based on geography and the type of water body using the state's data but its own methodology, which was reviewed by an independent authority, according to the 197-page report.
The agency's numbers don't deviate too greatly from what state regulators intended, though the federal standards are tougher when it comes to pollution in rivers and streams.
Take, for example, the Suwannee River basin: the state wanted to allow 1.730 parts per million of total nitrogen but the EPA set the number lower at 1.479 parts per million.
The EPA also went further than state regulators by proposing water-quality standards for South Florida canals and creating more rigid standards on upstream nutrient levels to protect downstream lakes and estuaries.
In other areas, the rules would give Florida flexibility by establishing a procedure for gradual compliance and allowing the state to set limits in certain areas.
Federal analysts estimated it would cost polluters $1.1 billion to $1.5 billion to comply - but emphasized the state's draft proposal would have cost nearly the same amount. The cost estimates don't include the price tag for upgrading municipal stormwater systems.
A spokesman for Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole said the department was still reviewing the report late Friday and didn't have a response.
But a coalition of agriculture and industry groups - which formed two months ago to oppose the EPA rules - responded quickly by calling the proposed limits a ``water tax.''
“This terrible regulation is not needed because Florida nutrient standards are perfectly adequate,'' said Jim Alves, a lobbyist who represents power companies and wastewater utilities. ``The science isn't there to do this regulation.''
Barney Bishop, the president of Associated Industries of Florida, said the cost - which his group estimates at more than $50 billion - would hurt business recruitment and job creation.
“It's onerous, stupid, ridiculous and idiotic,'' he said.
Ever since the lawsuit settlement, political officials and special interests have waded into the debate. Gov. Charlie Crist, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson previously voiced strong objections and suggested the state might sue the EPA.
The issue is expected to generate intense political debate ahead of three public hearings throughout the state in February. The final rule takes effect in October.
END THIS ARTICLE
January 18, 2010
The Environmental Protection Agency has released its proposed nutrient standards for Florida’s freshwaters. This is a positive step forward for Florida's water quality. Earthjustice’s news release is pasted below this message for your information.
You can read the EPA proposal at http://www.epa.gov/waterscience/standards/rules/florida/ .
There will be three public hearings next month to allow for input on these proposed pollution limits. The hearings will be held in Tallahassee on February 16, Orlando on February 17 and West Palm Beach on February 18 as follows:
February 16, 2010: 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Capitol East, 1355 Apalachee Parkway, Tallahassee, FL 32301
February 17, 2010: 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Orlando Universal, 7800 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, FL 32819
February 18, 2010: 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Palm Beach Airport, 1301 Belvedere Road, West Palm Beach, FL 33405
EARTHJUSTICE’s NEWS RELEASE
January 14, 2010
EPA Sets Proposed Limits on Fertilizer, Animal Waste, and
Sewage Pollution in State Waters
TALLAHASSEE – The new limits to curb sewage and fertilizer pollution proposed today by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency represent a historic first step toward cleaning up Florida’s waters.
“These standards aren’t as stringent as we would like, but they are a huge improvement,” said David Guest, attorney for the public interest law firm Earthjustice. “All you have to do is look at the green slime covering lakes, rivers, and shorelines during our warm months to know it is worth the investment to reduce fertilizer runoff, control animal waste better, and improve filtration of sewage.”
“The most cost-effective way to handle this problem,” Guest added, “is to deal with it at its source.”
While nitrogen fertilizer costs well under $5 per pound at the hardware store, it costs communities $235 to clean each pound of nitrogen out of lakes and streams once it is deposited there by stormwater. And the economic damage caused by toxic algae outbreaks can reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
“More effective sewage treatment and more conservative use of fertilizer saves a fortune in the long run,” said Florida Wildlife Federation president Manley Fuller.
This is the first time anywhere in the US where the EPA has been forced to impose such standards on a state.
The change in federal policy comes more than a year after Earthjustice, representing four environmental groups, filed a major lawsuit to compel the EPA to set strict limits on nutrient poisoning in public waters.
Every time it rains, phosphorous and nitrogen run off agricultural operations, fertilized landscapes, and septic systems. The poison runoff triggers slimy algae outbreaks which foul Florida’s beaches, lakes, rivers, and springs more each year, threatening public health and closing swimming areas.
A 2008 Florida Department of Environmental Protection report concluded that fully half of the state’s rivers and more than half of its lakes had poor water quality – a dangerous reality for a state with an economy based on tourism and water-based recreation.
The pollution is clearly damaging Florida’s economy. Last summer, people who wanted to fish and boat on the St. Johns River were blocked by a disgusting blanket of bright green slime triggered by sewage and fertilizer contamination. The river was placed under a public health advisory due to a toxic algae outbreak.
In 2005, public health authorities shut down all boat traffic on the river because they were concerned about dangers to human health. Property values along the St. Lucie estuary dropped by a half-billion dollars when a toxic algae outbreak covered the entire estuary.
In 2009, Tampa Bay suffered a brown algae outbreak which polluted waters around San Marco Island. Thousands of dead fish washed ashore, fouling beaches.
Exposure to these algae toxins – when people drink the water, touch it, or inhale vapors from it - can cause rashes, skin and eye irritation, allergic reactions, gastrointestinal upset, serious illness, and even death.
The problem is compounded when nutrient-poisoned waters are used as drinking water sources. Disinfectants like chlorine and chloramine can react with the dissolved organic compounds, contaminating drinking water with harmful chemical byproducts.
In June 2008, a water treatment plant serving 30,000 Florida residents was shut down after a toxic blue-green algae bloom on the Caloosahatchee River threatened the plant’s water supply.
Earthjustice filed the suit in the Northern District of Florida on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John’s Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club in July 2008. The suit challenged the unacceptable decade-long delay by the state and federal governments in setting limits for nutrient pollution.
The EPA originally gave Florida a 2004 deadline to set limits for nutrient pollution, which the state failed to meet. The EPA was then supposed to set limits itself, but failed to do so. Under the administration of President George W. Bush, the EPA let the states off the hook by allowing them to formulate plans without deadlines for action.
"Our community has been waiting for the Florida DEP to establish meaningful nitrogen reduction programs for over 11 years. They have failed; the St. Johns River is on the brink. We are glad the EPA has stepped into this vacuum and proposed real, understandable standards. This is a historic day,” said St Johns Riverkeeper Neil Armingeon.
"The only people who oppose these regulations are the polluters who continue to discharge the tons of nutrients that are destroying the health of the St. Johns River." “The new standards proposed by EPA will help Florida clean up its polluted lakes and rivers,” said Frank Jackalone of the Sierra Club. “For our fish and wildlife, which are being poisoned by excessive fertilizer runoff and sewage spills, the new rules will mean the difference between life and death. For the people of Florida, this action promises to make our drinking water cleaner and our economy stronger.”
August 25, 2009
Dear PURRE Members:
This is great news and definitely a step in the right direction! What follows is the news release put out by Earthjustice.
EPA Agrees to Set Limits on Fertilizer
and Animal Waste Pollution in Florida
New policy contrasts with inaction by Bush administration
Tallahassee, FL - August 21 - In a major step forward for the environment, President Barack Obama's administration has signed a consent decree in which it agrees to set legal limits for the widespread nutrient poisoning that triggers harmful algae blooms in Florida waters.
"This is a refreshing change of policy after almost a decade of foot-dragging by the Bush administration," said Earthjustice attorney Monica Reimer. "It is a real milestone in the struggle to safeguard lakes, rivers and estuaries throughout Florida."
"We look forward to working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in developing numeric criteria to keep our waters safe," Earthjustice attorney David Guest said.
The change in federal policy comes 13 months after five environmental groups filed a major lawsuit to compel the federal government to set strict limits on nutrient poisoning in public waters.
Nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen poison Florida's waters every time it rains; running off agricultural operations, fertilized landscapes, and septic systems. The poison runoff triggers algae outbreaks which foul Florida's beaches, lakes, rivers, and springs more each year, threatening public health, closing swimming areas, and even shutting down a southwest Florida drinking water plant.
In a 2008 report, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection concluded that half of the state's rivers and more than half of its lakes had poor water quality. The problem is compounded when nutrient-poisoned waters are used as drinking water sources. Disinfectants like chlorine and chloramine can react with the dissolved organic compounds, contaminating drinking water with harmful chemical byproducts.
Exposure to these blue-green algae toxins - when people drink the water, touch it, or inhale vapors from it - can cause rashes, skin and eye irritation, allergic reactions, gastrointestinal upset, serious illness, and even death. In June 2008, a water treatment plant serving 30,000 Florida residents was shut down after a toxic blue-green algae bloom on the Caloosahatchee River threatened the plant's water supply.
The public interest law firm Earthjustice filed the suit in the Northern District of Florida on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John's Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club in July 2008. The suit challenged an unacceptable decade-long delay by the state and federal governments in setting limits for nutrient pollution. EPA's agreement to set enforceable nutrient limits settles that lawsuit.
Read the consent decree
Today's action has nationwide implications. Currently, Florida and most other states have only vague limits regulating nutrient pollution. The U.S. EPA will now begin the process of imposing quantifiable - and enforceable -- water quality standards to tackle nutrient pollution.
"Floridians around the state will be breathing a sigh of relief with the EPA's new commitment to finally take action," said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation. "The delays on the part of the state and federal governments have been unbelievable. Today's action is welcome, and it has been a long time coming."
"The EPA's ruling could not have come at a more appropriate time for the St. Johns River," said St. Johns Riverkeeper Neil Armingeon. "Nutrient pollution
has once again caused the appearance of the 'Green Monster' and has made the river potentially unsafe for residents and wildlife. This ruling paves the way for meaningful river restoration."
The EPA originally gave Florida a 2004 deadline to set limits for nutrient pollution, which the state disregarded. The EPA was then supposed to set limits itself, but failed to do so. Under the administration of President George W. Bush, the EPA let the states off the hook by allowing them to formulate plans without deadlines for action.
The dire state of Florida's polluted waters made the delay unacceptable and dangerous, so the five groups sued.
"These numeric standards address an outstanding need we've had for quite a while to protect our local coastal waterways such as the Caloosahatchee River, Naples Bay and the Ten Thousand Islands," said Andrew McElwaine, president of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. "Setting a quantitative water quality standard for nitrogen, one of the primary pollutants degrading our coastal waterways, should help limit the development of harmful algal blooms. With a numeric standard in place, we can definitively assess whether our waterways can support healthy ecosystems, a healthy economy and protect public health and safety."
Earthjustice s a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.