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Who Controls Water Standard Levels In Florida?


Behind a Florida waterway, a seemingly untroubled scene – behind the turtle sunbathing atop the limestone rock, the water control structure and layers of sawgrass – there’s a political backstage.

The actors: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which currently holds control over water standard levels in Florida, and the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which wants it.

As of Friday, it seems that the two are one step closer to making the swap, which would afford the state jurisdiction over 98.9 percent of the water bodies in Florida.

According to the News Service of Florida,

Florida’s control over water standard levels would expand to nearly all of its waterways under an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday. The deal, which expands upon an agreement reached in November, would give the state Department of Environmental Protection power to set nitrogen and phosphorus levels in more than 4,300 square miles of coastal streams, estuaries and rivers, including the Intracoastal Waterway running up Florida’s east coast. The Florida Legislature has until Dec. 1, 2014 to approve the agreement, with bills on the plan expected to be put before lawmakers this session. The state DEP will also set interim standards until the legislation is approved.

With toxic nitrogen- and phosphorous-based fertilizers running off from the sugarcane fields adjacent to Lake Okeechobee, nutrient control in waterways has become of interest to state lawmakers. An influx of nutrients can, after all, cause algal blooms, which result in high concentrations of decaying organic matter, and even dead zones. Some argue that the most recent outbreak of red tide in Southwest Florida, which killed some 170 manatees, can be linked to nutrient pollution, although this is unconfirmed.

“We can now move forward to implementing nutrient reduction criteria, rather than delaying environmental improvements due to endless litigation,” DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard said in a news release.

Two of the state’s biggest business groups, Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce, also jumped on board.

The list doesn’t end there. According to the Tampa Bay Times,

Word of the EPA-DEP deal was greeted with delight by utilities, dairy farmers, pulp mills and other industries that had worked on drawing up the state's proposed standards. The head of one of the state's leading business lobbies, Tom Feeney of Associated Industries of Florida, said the credit for the EPA's agreement is due to the continued political pressure on the agency from Florida's congressional delegation.

However, not everyone is as pleased. Earthjustice – a non-profit law organization that, alongside other environmental groups, sued the EPA in 2008, forcing them to develop new water pollution rules – does not think the plan holds water.

“This is an absolute sell out,” Earthjustice attorney David Guest said in a release. “This bogus plan gives deep-pocketed polluters even more loopholes. And what do we, the public, get? More gross, slimy algae in the water.”

This is not the first time the EPA and DEP have worked together. In November, the federal government afforded the state the power to set the standards for nutrient concentrations on 10,000 miles of Florida waterways and 4,000 square miles of estuaries.

Want to dig even more behind the scenes? You can read the full script of the newest agreement here.