Wave Maker’s News: The Story of Water in Florida

This article is excerpted from Wave Maker’s News, our quarterly update on all things water in the Gulf of Mexico, check out the full newsletter here. Harmful algal bloom on the Caloosahatchee River.The story of water is Florida’s story. Our beaches, rivers, wetlands and springs are the lifeblood of the state’s economy, and each family that calls Florida home has a stake in the health of these waters. Sadly, many politicians and industry leaders don’t seem to understand this and throughout the state they are assaulting water protections. These short-sighted efforts to cut costs and rollback protections that were carefully crafted over decades of bi-partisan action will inevitably imperil both the environment and the state’s fragile economic recovery. This attitude was on full display at an August 9th Congressional Field Hearing inflammatorily titled: “EPA’s Takeover of Florida’s Nutrient Water Quality Standard Setting: Impact on Communities & Job Creation.”For decades, harmful algal blooms such as Red Tide and freshwater blooms of green slime have threatened Florida’s waterways with toxins and dead zones. These HABs are largely fed by runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from our lawns and wastewater. Despite this ongoing threat to state waters, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) spent ten years dragging its feet on establishing numeric nitrogen and phosphorus criteria for state waters that could help fix the problem. As a result, a coalition of environmental stakeholders sued EPA in July 2008 for its failure to fulfill its mandatory duties under the Clean Water Act and establish scientifically based numeric nitrogen and phosphorus criteria in Florida. In 2009, our allies prevailed in court. Unfortunately, industry, politicians, and bureaucrats in the FDEP are now doing everything they can to stop these new, more protective rules from being implemented.At the hearing on August 9th, the Congressional Field Panel and the invited stakeholders ignored sound science, public opinion, and the judicial decisions that support the establishment of new numeric nitrogen and phosphorus criteria. Instead, the hearing served as a forum for industry and politicians to air their one-sided views, and grill Gwen Keyes Fleming, EPA Regional Administrator for Region 4, and Earth Justice Attorney David Guest. Perhaps most frustrating of all, this taxpayer funded charade ignored the opinions held by the majority of Floridians who overwhelmingly support water protection.This issue has languished for 13 years and in that time the threat to Florida’s economy and communities from harmful algal blooms has only grown. The EPA continues to express a willingness to work with FDEP to address perceived issues with the new water protections, but they have yet to find a willing partner. It’s time for FDEP to come to the table with EPA and create a working blueprint for protecting Florida waters, and GRN will continue to work to make sure that happens.Cathy Harrelson is GRN’s Florida Organizer.

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