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Florida Reviews Water Quality Limits Every 3 Years. The Public Has Until Friday To Chime In

Pedro Portal
Miami Herald
Every three years Florida reviews water quality standards. The public has until Friday to weigh in on whether limits should be set for toxic algae.

Floridians have until Friday to weigh in on whether the state should set limits for toxic algae in water.

Florida is required to conduct reviews of water quality standards every three years under the federal Clean Water Act. This year, the state’s blue green algae task force and environmentalists have been lobbying for standards to address regular toxic outbreaks in the St. Lucie, Caloosahatchee and other Florida waterways.

But Jason Totoiu, a senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, is worried the deadline will pass without residents realizing what’s at stake.

“This is, the term’s a little bit wonky: triennial review,” he said.

Credit Jenny Staletovich / WLRN
Algae collected from the Caloosahatchee River in 2018.

Totoiu was also concerned that the state failed to give more notice about the deadline for public comment. He discovered it when he was reviewing a document attached to a workshop meeting announcement. The deadline appeared on page 174 of the 176-page document.

“We knew a public comment period was being considered but it was not until fairly recently did we find out that they were accepting comments through this Friday,” he said.

In May the Center, along with the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and Calusa Waterkeeper, petitioned the state to set pollution limits. The toxins have been linked to liver disease and neurological disorders in people and blamed for killing and sickening dogs.

The state’s blue green algae task force created by Gov. Ron DeSantis is also calling for limits on the toxic algae. In October, the task force concluded a six-month review recommending limits as well as increasing research into the chronic and acute health affects from exposure to algae.

“Defensible health advisories should be established by the Florida Department of Health and defensible water quality criteria should be established by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection,” the task force wrote.

So far, no state in the U.S. has set limits on toxic algae, Totoiu said. In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommended draft limits for two types on cyanotoxins, including those found in Florida. But in 2019, the agency finalized less restrictive the limits. That prompted the Center and other groups to petition Florida to adopt the stricter draft standards.

The state responded by saying it would consider the tighter limits as part of this review, Totoiu said.

To submit comments, email Kaitlyn.Sutton@FLORIDADEP.gov or mail comments to 2600 Blair Stone Road, Mail Station 6511, Tallahassee FL 32399-2400.

Jenny Staletovich is WLRN's Environment Editor. She has been a journalist working in Florida for nearly 20 years. Contact Jenny at jstaletovich@wlrnnews.org
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