Setting Clear Pollution Limits

Numeric pollution limits are like speed limits.Numeric pollution limits are like speed limits.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been working with Florida to establish new limits to protect our family’s health and drinking water. These measurable standards will control excessive levels of phosphorus and nitrogen in water bodies.

Currently, Florida has an unenforceable “narrative” — not “numeric” — limit that says that the so-called “nutrients” (phosphorus and nitrogen) in sewage, manure and fertilizer can’t cause a biological “imbalance.” This is like post-ing a speed limit sign that reads: “Drive At A Reasonable Speed Considering Weather, Traffic and Lighting Conditions As Well As Other Relevant Factors.” Numeric pollution limits, on the other hand, are like speed limit signs with enforceable numbers on them: “SPEED LIMIT 55 MPH.”

Current Florida approach isn’t working.Current Florida approach isn’t working.


To get these measurable pollution limits, the public interest law firm Earthjustice sued EPA in 2008 on behalf of Florida Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Envi-ronmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, and St. Johns Riverkeeper.

EPA entered into a settlement agreement with the conservationists in federal court. Scientists from the EPA and Florida’s DEP then jointly reviewed 13,000 water samples at 2,200 sites around the state to develop the new regulations. The public is supportive — when the EPA asked the public to comment on the new wa-ter pollution limits, the agency received 22,000 comments, and 20,000 were in support of the new stand-ards.

EPA’s numeric nutrient limits are not a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Lakes are categorized into three groups (colored, clear & alkaline, clear & acidic) and specific standards are proposed for each group. For streams, EPA proposes six different water-shed-based regions within Florida with different criteria for each region. To protect lakes and rivers downstream, EPA includes standard scien-tific equations to further limit nutrient levels when neces-sary. For springs and clear streams, EPA’s limits will pre-vent algae outbreaks.