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~Florida ERC approves rigorous standards to now protect 91 percent of the state’s estuaries~

TALLAHASSEE– The Environmental Regulation Commission on Thursday unanimously approved numeric nutrient criteria for an additional 18 estuaries and 448 miles of open coastal waters, building on the extensive standards set beginning in late 2011. The action means the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has set rigorous nutrient criteria for more than 3,900 of the state’s estimated 4,290 coastal miles of estuaries, or 91 percent coverage.

The estuaries affected include Loxahatchee River, Lake Worth Lagoon, Halifax River, Guana River/Tolomato River/Matanzas River, Nassau River, Suwannee River, Waccasassa River, Withlacoochee River, and Springs Coast (Crystal River to Anclote River). The Department has developed criteria for total phosphorus, total nitrogen and chlorophyll A for individual segments in each of the estuaries.

This action follows the adoption of numeric nutrient criteria for Panhandle and South Florida estuaries late last year and the previous year, well before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's deadline for proposing the standards. Previous estuaries covered include Tampa Bay, Charlotte Harbor, Biscayne Bay, Indian River Lagoon, the Florida Keys, Pensacola Bay (including Escambia Bay), Choctawhatchee Bay, St. Andrew Bay and Apalachicola Bay.

Data collection and analysis continues for the remaining nine percent of the estuaries, mostly in the Big Bend area of the state.

“I am very proud of the dedicated scientists at the Department who worked long hours to derive criteria based on the best science available,” said Drew Bartlett, Director of the Department's Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration. “What they have accomplished furthers Florida’s position as a national leader in the adoption of these important criteria. We are gratified by the ERC's action.”


In March, the Department and the EPA reached agreement for the state to complete the path it started on, establishing comprehensive numeric nutrient criteria to protect Florida’s waterways from excessive levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. High levels of these pollutants promote algal blooms and are Florida’s most critical water quality challenge.

That agreement builds on momentum from November 2012, when EPA approved Florida’s numeric nutrient criteria for lakes, rivers, streams and springs, as well as estuaries from Clearwater Harbor to Biscayne Bay and the Florida Keys. State legislation passed this session and additional Department rulemaking is ongoing to finish the job of setting numeric nutrient criteria in Florida. The agreement will bring an end to dual federal and state rulemaking. 

The legislation, recently signed into law by Governor Rick Scott, requires the Department to complete its nutrient criteria rulemaking for remaining estuaries and coastal waters by Dec. 1, 2014, and establishes interim nutrient standards for those remaining waters until then. The legislation further provides that state criteria will go into full effect when EPA withdraws all federal nutrient criteria rulemaking in Florida.

The Department has also adopted a clear implementation plan for nutrient criteria. Upon fulfillment of the agreement with EPA, coupled with EPA’s November 2012 approval of the Department’s previously adopted criteria, Florida will have state-established numeric nutrient standards for the vast majority of its waterways. 

Florida taxpayers have invested millions of dollars to create the nation's most comprehensive rules controlling nutrients. These rules account for the diversity and complexity of Florida’s waters and afford local communities and private interests the tools essential to cleaning up and protecting rivers, lakes, estuaries, and springs. The Department is committed to working with affected stakeholders to finish the job.

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