WATER POLLUTION:

EPA proposes freshwater nutrient limits for Fla., a national first

U.S. EPA proposed pollution standards for nutrients in Florida waters, the first such proposal for any state.

The EPA proposal sets limits on nitrogen and phosphorous for freshwater lakes, rivers, streams, springs and canals. The agency said it would propose a rule for estuaries and other coastal waters in January 2011.

The nutrient proposal would also let Florida set interim water quality targets, a mix of standards for runoff and discharge pipes, an EPA spokeswoman said. "This works where a standard cannot be met in the short term, but can be met in the longer term," she said.

Environmental groups praised the proposal aimed at curbing nutrients that can foul drinking water and fuel algal blooms that deplete dissolved oxygen necessary for aquatic life. "The numbers are pretty good," said David Guest, an attorney for Earthjustice, which sued EPA for the standards last year.

But industry groups say complying with the standards will cost billions of dollars and disrupt work already under way in the state to curb nutrient pollution.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, National Association of Clean Water Agencies and Florida Water Environment Association met with the White House Office of Management and Budget to discuss the proposal last week, presenting documents that argue the criteria would double charges for water and sewer services in parts of the state. Both environmental and industry groups said they met with EPA last year as the agency was drafting the proposal.

Susan Bruninga, spokeswoman for NACWA, expressed objections to EPA's methodology for setting the nutrient criteria.

"EPA essentially sets criteria for broad eco-regions based on a statistical analysis of what the concentration of the nutrients are in a particular water body, and then applies it to all the water bodies," Bruninga said. "Our concern is they're kind of doing a one-size-fits-all approach and not linking concentrations to impacts."

Though EPA said the methodology it used to set the nutrient standards was specific to Florida, Guest said the proposed limits could serve as a template for nutrient standards in other states.

"I think this is a prototype that will be followed by other states," Guest said. "And if some states don't follow, EPA will be able to do this rather quickly, because they've done the hard work now."

EPA's Office of Inspector General found in August that the agency failed to follow through on its pledge to enforce federal nutrient pollution standards if states did not develop their own by 2004 (E&ENews PM, Aug. 27, 2009).

A coalition of environmental groups is now pressing the agency to set nutrient criteria for Wisconsin waters, threatening to sue EPA if it does not promptly do so (Greenwire, Nov. 24, 2009).