New Nutrient Runoff Targets

In late August, EPA announced a settlement of a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club, Florida Wildlife Federation, and other environmental groups. In the settlement, EPA will set legal, numeric limits for farm and urban runoff of fertilizers and animal waste. This will be the first time EPA will force numeric limits on nutrient runoff on a state.

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Environmental groups hailed the EPA settlement and credited the Obama Administration for action on the measure. In a statement, EPA noted the standards are needed “to protect Florida waters from the impacts of nitrogen and phosphorous pollution.”

State Regulators Pull Back

Given the federal action, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is considering whether it would be prudent to continue its own rulemaking efforts on the issue. In a statement, DEP Secretary Michael Sole, noted: “Over the last 10 years, Florida has invested thousands of staff hours in development of numeric nutrient criteria, and throughout the last year we have moved aggressively to analyze the massive amount of nutrient and biological data available for Florida waters. Alone, Florida accounts for 30% of the national water quality data set, far surpassing any other state in the nation. Our efforts have focused on appropriately addressing the complexity of Florida’s ecosystems and coinciding with the intent, schedule, and guidance provided from EPA.

“Florida has made a tremendous investment to collect and analyze the data necessary to define how nutrient enrichment affects the biological health of our surface waters. To ensure that there is no duplication of work, we will continue to work with EPA in the same manner they have worked with us as they develop the criteria. We look forward to EPA presenting its criteria to both DEP and the stakeholders of Florida.”

EPA has until Jan. 14, 2010 to set the new limits for Florida’s creeks, rivers, and lakes. The rules must be finalized by October 2010.

Clean Water Restoration Act

While EPA mulls numeric limits for nutrient runoff, the Clean Water Restoration Act (S. 787) is working it’s way through Congress. The legislation would remove the word “navigable” from the Clean Water Act and allow the Corps of Engineers and EPA to regulate all interstate and intrastate waters. Farm groups argue this could lead to a regulatory nightmare for growers, and it amounts to federal power grab at the expense of state’s rights.

This would give the federal government jurisdiction on all activities that would impact water in ditches, irrigation ponds, etc., whether it would be spraying of chemicals or changes in nearby land use.