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Toxic Algae: Environmentalists File Suit Over Florida’s Water Pollution Standards

| December 2, 2011

Phosphorus and nitrogen poison Florida's waters during each rainfall, running off agricultural operations, fertilized landscapes and septic systems. The poison runoff triggers algae outbreaks, which foul Florida's beaches, lakes, rivers, and springs in increasing quantities each year, threatening public health. This pollution is preventable. Now that we know how the nitrogen and phosphorus in sewage, manure and fertilizer tip Florida's delicate ecological balance. (Earthjustice)

Prompted by proposed state regulations it says are inadequate, a coalition of environmental groups on Thursday filed an administrative challenge to the new rules set up to determine acceptable pollution levels in Florida waters.

Earthjustice attorney David Guest said the group filed the challenge at the Division of Administrative Hearings in response to recently proposed state clean water standards that the lawsuit contends fall far short of Federal Clean Water Act requirements imposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The lawsuit claims Florida is failing to protect residents and tourists from nauseating—and dangerous—toxic algae outbreaks.

“Toxic algae outbreaks are a public health threat and they also affect Florida’s bottom line,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. “These outbreaks can cause rashes, breathing problems, stomach disorders, and worse. Health authorities have had to shut down drinking water plants, beaches and swimming areas. Toxic algae can kill fish, livestock and pets, and we need to be cleaning it up.”

The state Division of Environmental Protection rule “was basically written by lobbyists for corporate polluters,” said Guest, said Guest, whose group successfully sued in 2008 over the adequacy of the state’s water pollution standards, which resulted in the federal EPA stepping in to impose numeric criteria for nutrients in water. “Polluters know it is cheaper for them to use our public waters as their private sewers, and the state is giving them the green light to keep doing it.”

After years of seeing toxic algae outbreaks on Florida tourist beaches like Sanibel Island and at fishing destinations like the St. Johns River, Earthjustice filed the Clean Water Act federal lawsuit in 2008 in the Northern District of Florida on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John’s Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club.

After negotiations with the state, however, the EPA backed off, with DEP agreeing to propose its own set of numeric criteria for the phosphorus and nitrogen that comes from sewage, fertilizer and manure in Florida waters, as required by federal officials.

The 30-page challenge filed Thursday contends that the new proposed DEP rules will still result in years of delay in cleaning up Florida waters and let the state off the hook on protecting Florida waters from ill effects of nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients in Florida’s lakes and streams.

The federal standards had been opposed by a host of groups from the business community, power generators and government officials from both sides of the political fence who said the federal rules were inflexible and too expensive to enact, a claim the coalition rejects.

The new state-drawn rules “are not designed to protect state waters from adverse impacts of nutrient over-enrichment,” the complaint asserts. “Instead these rules go so far as to prevent finding of impairment due to nutrients until the water body is covered with nutrient-fueled toxic blue-green algae.” (See the full text below.)

Joining Earthjustice in the challenge is the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Sierra Club, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida and St. Johns Riverkeepers.

“This is not just an environmental issue,” said St. Johns Riverkeeper Neil Armingeon. “This is an economic issue.”

The 2008 lawsuit filed by Earthjustice argued that the federal Clean Water Act wasn’t being enforced in Florida, despite a ruling in 1998 ordering states to comply with an EPA edict to set verifiable limits on nutrient discharges that are largely responsible for algae blooms and other degradation of inland waters.

In 2009, the EPA set numeric limits for the phosphorus and nitrogen that comes from sewage, fertilizer and manure in Florida waters. But in November, the state DEP sent Washington an alternative, a slate of draft rules for state numeric measuring of nutrients, and EPA announced that it was likely to approve them.

Opponents of the EPA rules said there’s no scientific reasoning behind numeric limits on pollution, and contend that the criteria would force costly upgrades of facilities such as sewage-treatment plants, which discharge water into rivers and streams.

–Michael Peltier, News Service of Florida

Earthjustice lawsuit on Florida water standards, Dec. 1, 2011

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13 Responses for “Toxic Algae: Environmentalists File Suit Over Florida’s Water Pollution Standards”

  1. Fred Peterson via Facebook says:

    But the GOP tells me there are too many regulations on such things, let the Business comunity decide whats clean water and whats not…………thats one of the reasons why theres no jobs, because we want clean water..

  2. More Amazed Every Day says:

    I am astounded that we have not been required to follow the EPA guidelines! The state can find money for any other cost that suits their needs, they should be forced to do it in this instance. I am sure if they were to develop health issues from this, they would then see this as a priority for improvement! Maybe they should take a swim…..

  3. Layla says:

    I’d like to see the evidence they have on this and compare it to other states. There was a big push recently to turn several hundred thousand acres over to the jurisdiction of the federal government, the US Dept. of the Interior, to be exact.

    Five members of the St. John’s County Commission voted it down, but you didn’t even know it was happening, did you?

    It would have taken ALL management of much of St. Augustine and areas south to Volusia County out of the hands of those of us living here and even the state of Florida. That acreage also included much of the seashore and the St. John’s River.

    Pay attention people. The feds are after your land.

  4. Kip Durocher says:

    “several hundred thousand acres”

    500,000 acres is almost 800 square miles

  5. beachbabe says:

    I lived once on a beautiful beach in California that was a private development (old trailer park, actually). Right on the sand, walk 50 ft. to the ocean. Then the state bought it. Guess what happened? At 4:00pm everyday, the police came and told people to get off the beach. Not joking here people. We were told to get off that beach or be arrested.

    How would you feel if you were told you had to stay in your house after 4pm everyday and could not even venture out into your front yard? The people in that trailer park were given a short term lease of a few years, then a deadline to remove those trailers. Most were not removed and were bulldozed to clear that beach for a “nature preserve.”

    Pay attention people. This is some serious stuff. And it is happening.

  6. Justice for All says:

    The environmentalists needed to sue and will probably win. Happened before in this State – Lake Okeechobee. Layla, were you back up north when the toxic algae hit Flagler Beach?! If land in Florida isn’t purchased by and for the public, it will be developed. I prefer public ownership over pavement from coast to coast.

  7. Layla says:

    Justice for all: You don’t mind handing everything you own to the federal government? It is the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT going after your land.

    Once they get it, they fence it and you don’t get to use it anymore, for anything. Did you know that? Been to the Keys lately? Have you seen the areas being closed off there?

    You prefer chain link fencing to all else?

    We don’t need to sue anybody. Just get the laws changed. Just because you own land does NOT entitle you to build anything you want on that land.

  8. Layla says:

    Justice, yes I was here for the toxic algae. How will the federal government taking control and fencing off our beaches stop that?

    I thought local communities were doing a fine job until the feds got involved. Believe me, the feds are NOT looking out for our best interests here.

  9. Justice for All says:

    Layla – I’m a native Floridian. Knew the Keys when it WAS the Keys. Can’t think of the place in the Keys you are describing. Too expensive for the Feds to fence in Everglades National Park, wouldn’t you say? I think Yellowstone National Park, Grand Canyon, etc., are wonderful examples of Federally protected lands. I gave up a long time ago on the local officials doing the right thing and not approving more development. The elected officials get lobbied and the staff caves in.

    • Layla says:

      I’m talking about the area between Key Largo and Big Pine Key. I suggest you take a trip back down in the near future and see for yourself.

      When they take it over, they fence it off. Happening in CA and VA as well. This bears looking into, seriously.

      • Sandee says:

        I hope you can help me with this. I live in Flagler Beach and there is a pond that I believe to be toxic. It has a drain to the intracoastal but has been clogged for years. It is in a condo complex and the people have dumped bleach into the pond to no avail. First, isn’t bleach prohibited from dumping in lakes? Second, since it is on their property isn’t it an obligation to the community to clean this up? I really need help as to who I can contact regarding this mess. If anyone could please direct me as to where I should go next or just ignore the problem? Thanks

    • Layla says:

      Justice, I want to clear something up here. I don’t disagree with you. I am not opposed to protecting the land and native species Florida has done a better job of that than most states. I just don’t think we have to give it to the feds to do that.

      Is that the only way to protect ourselves from pavement? I hate to think so.


  10. Justice for All says:

    Probably fencing due to illegal activity that seems to be taking place on Federal lands. I don’t go into the “woods” alone any more.

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