New tougher state pollution standards are being touted as a remediation for declining Florida water quality, which has been damaged repeatedly by red tide and other scourges.
Late Friday, Nov. 30, the EPA agreed to immediately propose strict, enforceable limits to reduce water pollution that causes toxic algae and slime.
The pollution standards will cover 100,000 miles of Florida waterways, including all of those surrounding Gasparilla Island, and 4,000 square miles of estuaries, including all of those draining into the Charlotte Harbor.
The EPA has agreed to immediately propose strict, enforceable limits to reduce water pollution that causes red tide.
"This is a huge step forward in protecting and restoring our state's natural resources," said Holly Greening, executive director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program in St. Petersburg.
The feds also accepted science-based recommendations from the National Estuary Programs in Florida. The rule changes include the estuarine numeric nutrient criteria proposed by Charlotte Harbor, Sarasota and Tampa NEPs.
"This is a great example of how local, state and federal entities can work together, with our public and private partners, to develop the strong technical basis of effective policies for clean waters and the aquatic resources that they support," said Lisa Beever, director of the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program.
The tougher standards come not a moment too soon, according to the new report "Valuing Florida's Clean Waters," which shows red tide costs the Sunshine State billions annually. Excessive nitrogen and phosphorus in the water can make algae grow so quickly it overwhelms an ecosystem, which causes Florida millions more in annual dollar losses than any other state.
The report by Elizabeth Stanton and Matthew Taylor of the Stockholm Environment Institute U.S. Center came out the same week the new Florida water quality standards were passed.
Environmental advocates had been pushing for higher standards for four years, said David Guest, attorney for Earthjustice in Florida.
"This sets the gold standard for the United States," Guest said. "These contaminants can and will be limited. Standards can be set and the problem can be stopped."
Florida and most other states have long had vague standards when it comes to how sewage, manure and fertilizer runoff are handled. The new EPA limits will take effect within a year and should prompt statewide changes in public and private sectors.
"Sewage treatment plants will have to be updated, cities will have to have better source controls on the pollutants that get into water and farmers are going to have to clean up their act," Guest told the Florida News Connection.
The prevalence of red tide outbreaks in Florida promoted an Earthjustice lawsuit against the EPA, which helped spur the tougher water quality standards.
Pollutants released by sewage plants, industries and farmers can cause red tide, which poses a public health hazard and has forced the closing of Florida beaches on many occasions.
Algae concentrations are becoming a problem in other states as well. The water quality report said it has been proven nutrient pollution causes large-scale degradation of water bodies.
"Such human-induced nutrient pollution is a leading cause of the degradation of water bodies in the United States, including Florida," the report concluded.