BRADENTON – The Sarasota Bay and Tampa Bay Estuaries were among several waterways for which an FDEP-proposed Numerical Nutrient Criteria was approved last Friday. The standards, developed in a public-private partnership between governments, environmental groups and industry leaders, will serve as a measurable means to ensure water quality in waterways throughout the southwest Florida region.
For the past 15 years, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program has been working to develop scientifically-sound, protective and defensible goals and targets regarding nutrient levels. Executive Director Holly Greening says that the approval demonstrates the success that can be achieved when such a diverse group of stakeholders work in concert to develop ecologically-sound standards that can be feasibly implemented.
“It's certainly not the easy road,” said Greening, “and it's obviously not the shortest, but I think there are clear benefits when all of the interests are working together. In the end, we achieved a set of targets that are defensible and protective, and I think that everyone involved is pleased with the strategy that we've developed.”
The new standards cover the following estuaries: Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay, Charlotte Harbor and Clearwater Harbor; in addition to lakes, springs, flowing waters and south Florida marine waters. In its approval letter, the EPA said that the regulations comported with the Clean Water Act, while applauding FDEP for rules that “make significant advancements to the approach of reducing nutrient pollution in Florida waters.”
Previously, the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southeast Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. Johns Riverkeeper and the Sierra Club had sued the EPA, claiming that the agency had failed to enforce its own regulations requiring states to establish numeric criteria for such nutrients as nitrogen and phosphorus.
While the EPA has approved criteria for those waterways, it also said on Friday that it would impose federal rules on a significantly larger portion of Florida waterways that were not covered by the accepted proposal. Friday was the deadline for resolving such standards, which had already been extended several times, most recently on a six-month extension in June.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson filed a notice in federal court Friday in Tallahassee saying that she had complied with a consent decree requiring the adoption of the rules after U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle took no action on another request for more time that the EPA had made the previous week.