Florida Water Wars Take A Turn

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While the battle over water resources is never ending in Florida, a significant milestone has passed in the years-long debate over EPA’s numeric nutrient criteria (NNC). The issue was brought to the forefront by a lawsuit against EPA from environmental groups to force Florida to apply specific limits to the amount of nutrients in waters from agricultural and municipal sources.

In the latest turn in the legal wrangling, EPA approved the State of Florida’s own standards for the prevention of nutrient pollution in state waterways applicable to 100% of Florida’s rivers, streams, lakes, and to estuaries from Tampa Bay to Biscayne Bay, including the Florida Keys. The NNC established levels for nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as biological conditions that must be met to protect healthy waterways.

BMPs Yield Positive Results

While one rationale to sign up for Florida’s BMPs program is protection against water compliance regulation, there are other benefits found in reduced inputs. Here are a few examples:
• A BMP demonstration watermelon farm marketed a farm-record yield using BMP irrigation and nutrient management tools. Nitrogen used to grow the crop was 25% less than UF/IFAS recommended rates.
• A narrower herbicide band was used in a citrus grove at low labeled rates, which resulted in three to five times less herbicide in runoff water than mid-rates with wider bands. The width of the herbicide band had little effect on nitrogen or phosphorus loading.
• In a specific citrus grove case study, improving the irrigation supply and drainage infrastructure resulted in an estimated reduction in off-site drainage volume about 0.75 acre-inch per acre during summer months with weekly rainfall of 4 inches.

Source: UF/IFAS

For more information on BMP enrollment, visit FloridaAgWaterpolicy.com.

“I’m pleased to see the EPA has recognized Florida’s right to protect Florida’s water,” says Adam Putnam, Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture. “The EPA has acknowledged the sophistication of the scientific method used by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to derive numeric limits on nutrients in Florida’s water bodies by approving FDEP’s NNC rule in its entirety.
“The EPA’s approval of FDEP’s NNC benefits Floridians in that these rules are based on the best available science, will yield measurable environmental improvement, and cost less to implement than the rules EPA had at one time proposed.”

Putnam has stated numerous times how Florida deals with water availability and that quality is one of the defining issues of his Administration and the future of the state. He also notes that Florida’s water standards are a culmination of two decades of data analysis by some of the best scientists in the state. The methodology the FDEP used to derive its specific standards is embraced by the National Academy of Sciences, which has resulted in the most comprehensive set of water quality standards ever proposed by any other state.

Ongoing Debate

While EPA approval of state standards is a plus, Rich Budell, director of agricultural water policy for FDACS, cautions: “It does not lay the dispute to rest.”
While EPA approved state standards, simultaneously it proposed draft federal NNCs pursuant to a federal consent decree for waters not yet covered by state rules which include: remaining estuaries; open ocean waters; the location where South Florida canals enter estuaries; scientifically challenging areas like tidal creeks, headwaters that are dry for portions of the year (excluding drought conditions), and managed water conveyances (including man-made canals) for all areas north of Lake Okeechobee.
“The FDEP is continuing its development of criteria for the rest of the estuaries in the state,” says Budell. “In November 2012, the FDEP adopted NNC for additional estuaries, expanding coverage to 72% of our estuaries. It also has committed to adopting criteria for the remaining estuaries in 2015 after data collection and analysis. These will require EPA approval.”

BMPs Still Count

Growers should still consider state BMPs as the best measure to avoid any possible snares over water quality issues. “The FDACS BMP program is still the state approved method of dealing with water quality standards for all agricultural land uses,” says Budell. “It is very important that agricultural producers adopt and maintain BMPs to remain in compliance with current and future water quality standards.”

BMP manuals now cover many segments of agriculture in the state, including vegetable production and citrus. A new manual for citrus has recently been published, which consolidates the regional citrus manuals under one book.

Giles is editor of Florida Grower, a Meister Media Worldwide publication.

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