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Numeric nutrient criteria
Updated on 1-31-2014
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.
All states are required by the federal Clean Water Act to establish water quality standards and, in doing so, to secure U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approval. Water quality standards are established in state rules as the goals for the protection of aquatic ecosystems, safe recreation and fishing, and provision of water supplies. The standards contain water quality criteria (specific numeric values) that, when achieved, protect these goals.
On March 15, 2013, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and EPA reached an agreement to continue the protection of Florida’s waterways from excess nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.
The agreement came out of EPA’s approval in November 2012 of the state's numeric nutrient criteria to cover all lakes, rivers, streams and springs, as well as estuaries from Clearwater Harbor to Biscayne Bay. DEP moved forward with rulemaking and legislation in 2013 to complete establishing numeric nutrient criteria for Florida's waterways.
The plan included proposing state legislation and adopting additional state rules that, when combined, would eliminate the need for continued dual rulemaking and secure the foundation for a single, state-led solution for the state of Florida.
In June 2013, EPA approved DEP’s implementation plan for Florida’s nutrient criteria. EPA also filed a motion in federal court to amend the Consent Decree to reflect its determination that further federal rulemaking is unnecessary given DEP’s rulemaking efforts.
On Jan.7, 2014, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle granted EPA’s motion to modify the Consent Decree to discontinue federal rulemaking and to allow DEP to implement all of the state’s rules.
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 are based on sound science.
For more information about Florida’s numeric nutrient criteria, visit DEP’s website.