Got Clean Water in your Town?

Don’t let DEP take your rights away!

If you do, you are pretty darn lucky because clean water is becoming a rare commodity in the State of Florida. It’s a good day for a lot of rivers and bays if there is no toxic algae blooming and people can get on or near the water without their eyes burning and having coughing fits. How did things get so bad?

About 14 years ago, the Florida DEP decided to become a “kinder, gentler” agency when it comes to enforcing the law. They got rid of most of their enforcement attorneys, stop fining serious polluters (yeah, they still pick on mom & pop polluters from time to time, but serious polluters get full DEP protection) and starting treating “regulated interests” as their “clients”. Things have steadily gone downhill and today we see our waters full of toxic algae, our submerged grasses dying, fisheries crashing and shell-fish beds disappearing. Surely the state is just as horrified as we are that hundreds of dolphins, sea-turtles and manatees have died in these polluted waters in the last two years? Apparently not!

At the same time that Florida’s waters are at their most polluted level ever, the Florida DEP is working fast and furiously to further weaken our water quality standards. (Our water quality standards include: Designated Uses, Criteria and Anti-degradation Policy) This is not an early April Fools joke! This is true – sadly. They are determined to find a way to avoid the Clean Water Act. Here’s what they are up to right at this moment:

1.   Impaired Waters Rule (IWR) – Florida has developed a methodology (their words) for determining when a water body is too polluted and must go on a pollution diet – rather than following the clearly written directions in the Clean Water Act (which says to check the water to see if it is violating your approved water quality criteria). Clean Water Network of Florida sued EPA for allowing Florida to use this “methodology called the IWR instead of its approved water quality criteria – and we WON! So, now DEP has adopted the IWR as a part of its water quality standards – in spite of the fact that they had NO authority to do this under state or federal law. Since December they have been unofficially haggling with EPA about getting the IWR approved and amazingly EPA is holding back approval. EPA knows that Clean Water Network of Florida will sue them again if they do and hopefully the federal courts will stop Florida once again. Essentially, Florida DEP has tried to change the definition of pollution and has declared hundreds of grossly polluted waters in our state as now being clean under the IWR.

2.   SSAC Rule – This stands for “Site Specific Alternative Criteria” and is found in Chapter 62-302.800 Florida Administrative Code. About a year ago, DEP was desperately looking for a way to avoid a pollution limit on nutrients that the EPA had set for the lower St. Johns River. EPA’s pollution limit will require all 33 sewage treatment plants that are currently dumping sewage (secondary treatment) in the river to upgrade their treatment level to “Advanced treatment”. Also, the Georgia-Pacific paper mill would have to significantly reduce their nutrient loading to the river. DEP has promised these polluters in many public meetings that they will protect them from having to clean up their discharges to this level. Why??? That’s a good question. Why would we not want that many sewage plants to at least have advanced treatment if they are going to dump their sewage in the St. Johns River??? You’ll have to ask DEP.

Anyway, to avoid EPA’s pollution limit, DEP created a new loophole in Chapter 62-302.800 that allows DEP to use a weaker criteria for determining pollution levels and that is exactly what they did. They are now saying that the fish don’t need as much dissolved oxygen as Florida law says they do (a 24-hour average of 5.0 milligrams per liter). This would allow the sewage plants and Georgia Pacific to avoid the higher treatment levels for their discharges. DEP can now use this new loophole ANYWHERE IN THE STATE. Clean Water Network of Florida is suing EPA for allowing DEP to do this and the case is in federal court.

3.   Designated Uses – Right now all of our waters fall into one of the following categories: Class I is for drinking water; Class II is for shell-fish harvesting; Class III is for swimming and aquatic life; Class IV is for agriculture; and Class V is for industrial uses (technically we have no Class V waters). DEP is looking for yet another way to avoid the pollution limits mandated by the Clean Water Act and is proposing several new “designated uses” for some of our waters. These would include such things as water you can get splashed with, but not be submerged into; water you can only go through in a boat; water that only a few pollution-tolerant fish could survive in; and water that no fish can survive in. We call these new designated uses – “splashable/watchable”.

WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT THIS???? If you want to ever have clean water in your community again, you need to get in touch with Governor Crist immediately and let him know that DEP is up to no good with these (and other) efforts to weaken our water quality standards. Ask him to intercede for the people of Florida and tell DEP to stop protecting polluters and start protecting our water. Contact information for Governor Crist can be found by clicking on the “Government Contacts” tab on our home page.