A short Q&A with Florida DEP on water quality

FloridaEnvironments.com asked the Florida Department of Environmental Protection about its role in the U.S. EPA setting numeric criteria for nutrients in Florida waterways. Here are questions and the answers provided by DEP Communications Director Nancy Blum:

Does DEP have a view on the timetable for developing the criteria — is Jan. 15 too soon?

It is hard to predict the outcome of science. DEP was prepared to present draft criteria to the ERC (state Environmental Regulation Commission) for adoption this year. Recognizing that ERC adoption may be one step in a longer process that could involve rule challenges, the department could not offer any firm predictions on when the criteria could be finalized and effective. In addition, our process would include public and stakeholder involvement.

There remains a need to improve the science supporting the criteria for fresh water streams which DEP continues to explore. For fresh water streams the extensive database generated by Florida suggest the relationship between nutrient enrichment and biological response is very site specific. Deriving a criterion that is applicable to all streams is challenging and certainly needs to be coupled with regulatory processes that consider site specific variables. Additionally, the relationship between in-stream nutrient concentrations and downstream water protection remains unclear. These are very complex issues and addressing the uncertainty by January 14th, 2010, will be difficult. However, we cannot predict the viability to promulgation in October, 2010, given that the Federal public process has not begun.

What is DEP’s role at this point?

DEP is providing data and technical analysis to EPA for their consideration in developing a proposed rule. However, DEP is not engaged in EPA’s deliberative process regarding rule language and specific criteria as that is internal to their agency.

Does DEP believe that prescribed burning could be prohibited under some criteria?

Prescribed burns can mobilize nutrients for a very short duration. To the extent that prescribed burning causes water quality standards violations, including numeric nutrient criteria, those practices would have to be addressed during the TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) and BMAP (Basin Management Action Plan) process. The mobilization of nutrients as a result of controlled burning and the associated risk of excessive loading to adjacent streams is very site dependent.