Numeric Nutrient Water Quality Criteria: Lessons from Florida

Vol. 26 No. 3

Mr. Flowers is a shareholder at Lewis, Longman & Walker, P.A. Mr. Charles is an attorney at the firm.

The state of Florida is currently embroiled in a battle over state water quality standards for nutrients—one of our oldest and most basic tools for managing fresh water ecosystems. Florida, like most states, has implemented a narrative water quality standard for surface waters designed to protect designated uses assigned to those waters. Since 1996, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has pushed all states to adopt numeric nutrient criteria for surface waters based on its belief that numeric standards will expedite identification of impaired waters as well as related restoration and protection efforts contemplated by the Clean Water Act (CWA). Florida and EPA mutually agreed on a plan for development of numeric nutrient criteria. EPA, however, abandoned the plan. Instead, it set numeric criteria for the state by federal rule in order to settle a lawsuit filed against it by several environmental groups. These groups contended that EPA and the state were not moving with appropriate dispatch in establishing numeric criteria for the state.

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