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Numeric Nutrient Standards

Numeric Nutrient Standards

The past several year have been tough for our St. Johns River. The river has suffered from massive fish kills, widespread algal blooms, mysterious foam and an unprecedented number of dolphin deaths.

While scientists suspect that the fish kills and foam were related to toxic algal blooms, there is still some uncertainty regarding the definitive causes of these unfortunate events.  However, here is what we do know:

  • Our river is sick from nutrient pollution.
  • Too many nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) can stimulate toxic algal blooms.
  • Toxic blooms are harmful to fisheries, people, pets, the river, and our economy.
  • Algae and algal toxins are likely contributing factors to the foam and fish kills.
  • We must reduce nutrient pollution that is entering our river from commercial and utility wastewater, fertilizer runoff, failing septic tanks, and leaking sewage pipes.

One of the most important first steps to reducing nutrient pollution is to establish specific limits, or numeric nutrient standards, that are scientifically-based and enforceable. 

As a result of a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), numeric nutrient standards were finalized and released for flowing waters (freshwater rivers, streams, lakes, and springs) in November of 2010.  In a press release, the EPA announced that the standards would go into effect 15 months later: 

These new standards will become effective 15 months from now, allowing cities, towns, businesses, other stakeholders and the state of Florida a full opportunity to review the standards and develop strategies for implementation while Florida continues to recover from the current economic crisis.

Numeric nutrient standards for coastal and estuarine waters (this includes the lower section of the St. Johns River) will be finalized by August of 2012.

Background

The EPA determined back in 1998 that all states with impaired waters from nutrient pollution would need to adopt numeric standards, and the state of Florida agreed to do so in 2004. While many states have already adopted numeric standards on their own accord, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) failed to do so, prompting the EPA to step in and fulfill this obligation and need.

The EPA nutrient standards that were recently finalized for flowing waters were developed using the state of Florida's own data and a scientifically-sound methodology that has been peer-reviewed and well-vetted since 2000. The EPA has estimated that the new standards would increase household annual utility bills by between $40 and $71.

St. Johns Riverkeeper believes that the new standards are necessary for the protection of the St. Johns and are a cost-effective and prudent investment in the future of our state's waterways.

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