New waterway classification approved despite objections

Many canals and concrete ditches don’t need the same level of water quality treatment as natural waterways, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection says.

As a result, the state Environmental Regulation Commission on Thursday approved a rule that would create a new waterway classification for those altered water bodies. But environmental groups opposed the rule change, predicting it will lead to the increased pollution of some altered waterways that many people would consider natural, such as the Apalachicola and Caloosahatchee rivers.

FSA, whose membership mostly is cities and counties, says the change could save local governments billions of dollars in unnecessary cleanup costs. Supporters include the Florida Association of Counties, the Florida League of Cities, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Florida Sugar Cane League.

The state now has five waterway classifications ranging in quality from “Class I” drinking water supplies (potable) to “Class V” industrial, of which there are none now designated. Most waterways are classified as Class III, meaning they must support recreation and healthy fish and wildlife populations, said Jerry Brooks, director of DEP’s Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration.

The new “Class III — limited” designation would apply only to waterways where the existing Class III designation cannot be met — often because dredging and maintenance create a lack of habitat for aquatic creatures that are sensitive to pollution. Some of them still may be used for fishing.

“We are talking about many waters that I think most people viewing those waters would view them as very healthy water bodies,” Brooks told the ERC. “They are going to have very significant fish and wildlife associated with them. They just will not have the pollution sensitive taxa (aquatic life) that drive the water quality criteria associated with Class III.”

The reclassification would allow cities and counties to apply for redesignation and alternative pollution limits for nine water quality criteria, including nutrients, dissolved oxygen, biological integrity and transparency. The only water bodies that could be redesignated are those considered “wholly artificial” or those dredged prior to 1975, Brooks said. The reclassification, he said, must not harm downstream water bodies.

Opponents, including the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and the Clean Water Network of Florida, said portions of the Caloosahatchee River could be reclassified because of a weir and portions of the Apalachicola River could be reclassified because of dredging.

Gary Davis, an attorney representing the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, said the rule is unnecessary because heavily altered waterways are low on DEP’s cleanup list. “We don’t see the department (now) forcing the regulated community to clean up the impossible,” he said.

The rule change, which now goes to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval, was requested by the Florida Stormwater Association nearly a year ago.

To learn more about the stream designation system, go to .

(Story provided by The Florida Tribune. Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting