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Numeric Nutrient Criteria


Hearing begins on challenge to proposed state water quality rules

A scheduled eight-day hearing on a challenge to proposed state water quality rules began Monday with a marine scientist testifying that the guildelines would not protect coral reefs or prevent toxic red tides...
Click here for story in The Florida Current, February 27

Federal Judge Rules in Support of NNC Implementation in Florida

US District Judge Robert Hinkle's ruling in Tallahassee on Saturday [February 18, 2012] ended years of delays in setting and enforcing specific limits on sewage, manure and fertilizer contamination in Florida waters. The rules must take effect March 6, Hinkle ruled.

Read the 86-page ruling (PDF)

News-Press, February 19, 2012
NBC-2, February 19, 2012

The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday [February 17] agreed to delay implementing federal pollution limits in Florida, a day after Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation backing proposed state water quality rules.  Read more...

The Numeric Nutrient Criteria column below ran in the July 28, 2011 Island Reporter.  It was written in response to an industry letter sent to the Florida Congressional delegation (see below:  "Decipher Facts....").  That letter was written in response to a letter (see bottom) by David Guest of Earthjustice, written to the Florida Congressional delegation on behalf of the Florida Water Coalition, which was prompted by the Caloosahatchee algal bloom.

Numeric Nutrient Criteria and Water Quality

Rae Ann Wessel, SCCF Natural Resource Policy Director
Residents and businesses in Southwest Florida know the truth about nutrient pollution first hand. We live with the truth in our backyards. Devastating and ongoing algae blooms impact our livelihoods, our use and enjoyment of area waters, our properties, businesses and the natural resources that are the engine of our local economy.

The serious and persistent algae blooms that continue to affect southwest Florida -- and other areas of the state -- are the direct result of too much nutrient enrichment of our region's waters. Simply put nitrogen and phosphorus levels are way beyond what the natural system can absorb. Southwest Florida is not alone, the problems of nutrient enrichment reach all corners of our state and nation, impacting some of our most unique and precious resources.
This is why the current effort to establish standards for nutrients is so important. Decades ago regulations were developed to address many aspects of water quality. Unfortunately in Florida the regulation of nutrients has been ineffectual since no numeric standard of harm was established to measure nutrient enrichment. Instead, Florida adopted a subjective, narrative standard of “healthy well balanced systems” which has no scientific method of measurement. My definition of healthy well balanced may not be the same as someone who is contributing significant nutrient pollution.

In fact, under the current definition we have seen the degradation of local waters that in the 1980s were such unique and special resources they were awarded the status of Outstanding Florida Waters (OFW). Today these same waters are impaired by nutrient pollution that affects water quality and the amount and quality of the habitats upon which our unique aquatic life forms depend.
After years of deteriorating water quality and ten years of inaction by our State water quality agency, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed a numeric standard for nutrients in Florida called the Numeric Nutrient Criteria. This first set of standards for lakes and streams has become a tug of war between the State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Federal EPA and is being hotly debated. Last week a group of industry groups submitted an opinion to The Florida Independent news misrepresenting the scientific facts, including the suggestion that Caloosahatchee algae blooms are not due to nutrient pollution but are the result of this year’s drought!

In the interest of clarifying the facts associated with our water quality conditions and the need for numeric nutrient criteria we provide a few facts to address statements made to set the record straight.

Industry statement: “The [Caloosahatchee] algae bloom was a result of the lack of freshwater flow to the Caloosahatchee River due to the historic drought in South Florida.”
Fact: Nutrients are needed for algae to grow. Lack of water flow concentrated the nutrient soup compounding the problem, but the bloom would not have occurred had there not been noxious levels of nutrients in the water to begin with.

Industry statement: Unsurprisingly, water quality is improving.
Fact: Improving water quality from a toxic condition to a less dangerous condition must not be confused with clean, healthy, fishable, swimmable water quality -- the standard that numeric nutrient criteria are designed to establish. Rain washing algae downstream merely moves the nutrients downstream to our coastal waters where they will continue to pollute, preventing fishable, swimmable waters.

Industry statement: Mr. Guest’s letter failed to mention that the Caloosahatchee River already has an EPA-approved numeric nutrient pollution limit.
Fact: The Caloosahatchee has two basic components: the downstream tidal Caloosahatchee and the upstream (east of Franklin Lock) freshwater Caloosahatchee.
  • Only the tidal Caloosahatchee has an established TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load; that establishes a limit for nitrogen pollution). The majority of the river, including all the freshwater portion of the river and upstream tributaries that flow into the tidal waters are not covered by the TMDL.
  • The tidal TMDL only establishes a limit for nitrogen, not phosphorus. Unfortunately the toxic bluegreen algae that has plagued the Caloosahatchee for the past eight weeks blooms on phosphorus and can obtain the nitrogen it needs out of the air --which contains 78% nitrogen. There is no TMDL for phosphorus in the Caloosahatchee so even if the nitrogen TMDL limits were magically met tomorrow the algae could continue to bloom.
Industry statement: The state law requires a 22.8 percent reduction in nitrogen loads to Tidal Caloosahatchee estuary downstream of the S-79 Franklin Lock and sets a numeric nutrient limit of 9,086,094 pounds of Total Nitrogen per year.
Fact: The lack of an upstream TMDL means that nitrogen sources upstream will continue to undermine best efforts in downstream tidal waters.

The devil is always in the details… and in the scientific facts. We need numeric nutrient criteria and we need them now. We must not allow inertia and fear to prevent science from moving us to clean, healthy, fishable, swimmable waters for ourselves and the generations to come.

'Decipher Facts from Scare Tactics' in EPA NNC Decision

July 14 letter to Florida congressional delegation from business, government, labor groups

Last week, you received a letter from the Florida Water Coalition, signed by David Guest, requesting your support for EPA’s numeric nutrient criteria rulemaking in Florida.

The letter pointed to a recent algal bloom in the Caloosahatchee River to justify EPA’s rulemaking. While Mr. Guest is correct that the periodic algae blooms in the Caloosahatchee are a problem, he is simply wrong in suggesting that EPA’s numeric nutrient criteria rulemaking is the proper solution. Mr. Guest omits two essential facts that lead to a very different conclusion.

First, Mr. Guest’s letter omitted the widely reported reason for the algae bloom in the Caloosahatchee River. The algae bloom was a result of the lack of freshwater flow to the Caloosahatchee River due to the historic drought in South Florida. Baseflow deliveries of water from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee River are made when necessary to keep the estuary within its salinity envelope if water is available in the lake to make these deliveries. The conditions under which those releases are made are defined in the lake regulation schedule and operational protocols utilized by the South Florida Water Management District and the Army Corps of Engineers. Unfortunately, due to severe drought conditions, lake water was unavailable to be released to the river, and the river became stagnant, giving rise to ideal conditions for algae blooms. As a result of the recent rainfall and local runoff, the stagnant water has begun to be flushed from the river.

Unsurprisingly, water quality is improving. These verifiable facts were omitted in Mr. Guest’s letter.

Second, Mr. Guest’s letter failed to mention that the Caloosahatchee River already has an EPA-approved numeric nutrient pollution limit. The state of Florida adopted this site-specific numeric nutrient total maximum daily load (TMDL) for the Caloosahatchee River estuary in August 2009. See FDEP Rule 62-304.800(2), FAC. The state law requires a 22.8 percent reduction in nitrogen loads to Tidal Caloosahatchee estuary downstream of the S-79 Franklin Lock and sets a numeric nutrient limit of 9,086,094 pounds of Total Nitrogen per year. On Sept. 30, 2009, EPA agreed that achievement of this nutrient TMDL would protect the river from imbalances of flora and fauna. The state of Florida is implementing this TMDL in part through the comprehensive Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program, which was established by the Florida Legislature in 2007. See § 373.4549, FS.

The undersigned organizations appreciate the efforts of the Florida congressional delegation to decipher facts from scare tactics as the delegation engages the EPA in this unprecedented federal rulemaking. We are confident that as the full story of Florida’s nutrient water-quality-control programs continue to unfold, it will become increasingly apparent that EPA’s flawed numeric nutrient criteria rules are not needed, and the state of Florida is best situated to manage its own waters.

Associated Industries of Florida
Association of Florida Community Development
CF Industries
Farm Credit of Northwest Florida
Farm Credit of Central Florida
Farm Credit of Florida
Florida Beverage Association
Florida Cattlemen’s Association
Florida Chamber of Commerce
Florida Citrus Mutual
Florida Crystals Corp.
Florida Electric Cooperatives Association
Florida Electric Power Coordinating Group Inc.
Environmental Committee (FCG EC)
Florida Engineering Society
Florida Farm Bureau Federation
Florida Fertilizer & Agrichemical Association
Florida Forestry Association
Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association
Florida Gulf Coast Building & Construction Trades Council
Florida Home Builders Association
Florida Land Council
Florida League of Cities
Florida Nursery, Grower & Landscape Association
Florida Pest Management Association
Florida Pulp & Paper Association
Florida Rural Water Association
Florida Water Environment Association Utility Council
Florida Water Quality Coalition Inc.
Floridians for Industry, Jobs and Growth
Gulf Citrus Growers Association
PCS Phosphate, White Springs
South Walton Utility Co.
Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative
The Fertilizer Institute
United Food and Commercial Workers International Union – UFCW Local 1625
U.S. Sugar

Florida Water Coalition Letter

Click here for letter
Click here for press release about the letter, which had a link to the algal bloom photos on SCCF's web site, several of which were picked up throughout Florida.  The release also prompted an editorial in the New York Times.