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Numeric nutrient criteria
Updated on 10-10-2013
Numeric nutrient criteria are measurable levels of nitrogen and phosphorus set at values that will protect the designated uses of a water body from the harmful effects of nutrient pollution.
The federal Clean Water Act requires that all states establish water quality standards and secure U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approval. Water quality standards are established in state rules as goals for: the protection of aquatic ecosystems; safe recreation, including fishing; and provision of water supplies. The standards contain water quality criteria (specific numeric values) that, when attained, achieve these goals.
On Sept. 26, 2013, EPA approved Florida’s numeric nutrient criteria for numerous estuaries in Florida. EPA has now approved protective state nutrient standards that cover 100 percent of Florida’s lakes, rivers, streams, springs and estuaries.
EPA’s Sept. 26, 2013, approval fulfills Florida’s obligation under a March 15, 2013, agreement reached between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and EPA to protect Florida’s waterways from nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. The approval also eliminates the need for continued dual federal and state rulemaking and secures the foundation for a Florida-led solution to nutrient pollution in the state.
Some of the approved criteria are provided for in Florida Statutes, and DEP will conduct rulemaking to incorporate them into the Florida Administrative Code by Dec. 1, 2014. If the state’s rulemaking results in different criteria values, EPA will need to review and approve them at that time. Full implementation of all of the state’s rules will begin once EPA rescinds the federal criteria.
The St. Johns River Water Management District has supported the cooperative efforts of DEP and EPA to reduce nutrient pollution and has served as a scientific resource in the collaborative process. Natural background levels of nutrients vary widely across Florida’s thousands of water bodies. The District agrees that it is essential that nutrient standards preserve and protect this natural diversity and that they be based on sound science.
For more information about Florida’s numeric nutrient criteria, visit DEP’s website.