Florida Water Watch:State Water Quality is a Regulatory Hot Potato


Florida, the nation’s 22nd largest and fourth most populated state, is also geographically diverse. That is why a 2010 move by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that changes the way pollution is measured is having a controversial impact on the state’s efforts to conserve its natural water supply.
The Florida Aquifer comprises a hidden tributary of water, scrubbed by the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia and flowing underground all the way south to the Everglades. North Florida’s spring-fed Suwanee River is one of the cleanest in the nation, and numerous North Florida sources, such as Zephyrhills and Blue Springs, are tapped and bottled for their water’s purity.
Traditionally, state regulations governing water quality have been based upon a specific waterway’s official designated use. Evidence of degradation, such as becoming unsafe for swimming or for the survival of certain types of fish, yields the designation of “impaired.”
In 2009, the EPA determined that Florida’s narrative form of monitoring did not uphold the national Clean Water Act; federal regulators decided that a numerical method, already used in dozens of other states, is a better way to keep tabs on water quality. This method records data on a regular basis and compares it to baseline standards, in an effort to detect and address pollution as it occurs, rather than wait for evidence of damage to show up after the fact.
The current controversy arises because the EPA is applying certain standards on a statewide basis using averages of data samples, although underground conditions vary widely. For example, in some areas, such as Central and North Florida, natural rock formations contain high levels of phosphates and nitrates, which in other areas could be byproducts of fertilizer runoff.
Critics claim that the new EPA stsandards seek to reduce some levels of phosphates and nitrates to below what has been naturally occurring and constant for 150 years. The number of designated impaired sites would increase from hundreds to thousands, causing needless, costly mitigation and tying up shrinking funds that could be better used for bona fide environmental protection. The building industry lobby also sees the new pollution standards as a reason to limit development in the state.
Proponents proclaim that the new standards will serve citizens better by helping to maintain a more habitable environment through the generations.

Debate about Florida’s liquid heritage is ongoing. To become informed about the issue and its impact on a particular local area, visit CleanWaterNetwork-fl.org and Water.epa.gov/action.

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