Brevard County Officials Hail Water Quality Agreement

By  //  March 19, 2013

BREVARD COUNTY • VIERA, FLORIDA – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have reached agreement about how to protect Florida’s waterways from excess nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.

A new agreement allows the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to set local standards for protecting Brevard’s waterways. (Image courtesy of Space Coast Paddlers)

This agreement entrusts the state as the lead for water quality rule-making in Florida, rather than creating dual state and federal standards.

This agreement, with FDEP’s protection criteria selected as the numeric nutrient criteria to be followed, is very good news for Brevard County’s treasured waterways, wildlife, residents and visitors., according to Virginia Barker, Watershed Program Manager for the Brevard County Natural Resources Management Office.

FDEP’s rules require protective measures that were developed individually for the Indian River Lagoon, the St. Johns River, each unique creek along the lagoon and each major lake along the St Johns.

To the contrary, EPA’s broad-brush approach assigned uniform nutrient criteria for all fresh-flowing waters in the Florida peninsula.

EPA’s approach resulted in water quality criteria for our natural streams and rivers being the same as for our flood control ditches and canals. This federal approach was less scientifically accurate than the state’s approach for our naturally unique and vitally significant waterbodies and would have required devastating economic hardship for unnecessary pollution reduction in ditches.

While EPA’s criteria are more protective of our ditches, the state’s criteria are more protective of our St Johns River.

Brevard County has 2,840 miles of mapped drainage canals and ditches, plus many more miles of smaller unmapped systems that collectively provide critical flood control for homes, businesses and streets.

Brevard County has 2,840 miles of mapped drainage canals and ditches, plus many more miles of smaller unmapped systems.(Image by Irene Troutman)

FDEP’s narrative criteria do not ignore ditches and canals, but more appropriately requires nutrient loading from ditches and canals to be managed at the point where they discharge to natural waterways, Barker said.

Under state rules, existing drainage systems can continue to be used for flood protection and can convey polluted water to regional stormwater treatment systems where harmful pollutants are removed before the flood waters discharge to a natural waterway.

FDEP’s criteria do not expend limited public resources on the water in the ditches, but rather focuses on natural waters. This provides better and wiser protection for the Indian River Lagoon, St Johns River, and our other natural waterways.

Barker said the state’s water quality protection approach is far from perfect and must continue to be refined and adapted as scientific understanding of aquatic systems improves. It already has a process for reviewing data every five years and updating standards, as needed.

Florida’s approach of looking at the use and function of each body of water individually will lead to more accurate protection of each natural water body from nitrogen and phosphorus pollution and protect taxpayers from unnecessary regulation of Florida’s man-made flood conveyance systems.