Monday, March 22, 2010

New EPA rules label a dozen more Collier, Lee waterways as polluted

More Southwest Florida streams and canals would violate water quality standards under a proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to limit pollution in Florida waters, according to a Naples Daily News analysis.The EPA is proposing to set specific numeric limits for nutrient pollution, replacing Florida's more general standard that requires only that nutrients not upset the natural balance of a waterway.Nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, end up in Florida waters from urban and farm runoff, triggering ugly algae blooms that can poison water supplies, kill fish and smother marine life.A dozen Collier and Lee county streams and canals considered not polluted under current state rules would be considered polluted under the EPA proposal, the analysis shows.They include the L-28 tieback canal on the eastern edge of the Big Cypress National Preserve, the Tamiami Trail canal, the Faka Union canal, Camp Keais south of Immokalee, canals that drain into Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Golden Gate canal that drains into Naples Bay.In Lee County, the newly designated polluted water bodies would include the eastern Caloosahatchee River above the Franklin locks and Palm Creek as well as Bayshore Creek/Chapel Creek, which drain into the Caloosahatchee.Some water bodies — the Estero Bay drainage area and the Ten Mile canal in southern Lee County — would be dropped from the polluted waters list under the EPA proposal, the analysis shows.The Daily News analysis compared the DEP's current lists of polluted waters with a database created by the DEP, applying the EPA's proposal to water bodies around the state.A spot on the list of polluted waters triggers cleanup requirements under the federal Clean Water Act.The EPA proposal is an outgrowth of a settlement of a lawsuit that environmental groups filed in 2008 after Florida missed a 2004 deadline to shore up the state's water quality standards.Agribusiness groups and utilities have objected to the EPA proposal, saying it will be too costly and questioning the science behind it.Collier County commissioners are set to decide in the coming week whether to formally object to the EPA proposal."This seems to be the sledgehammer instead of a little mallet approach," said Jerry Kurtz, the county's principal stormwater project manager.He said the county hasn't estimated how much it might cost to comply with the EPA proposal — or even whether it would be possible."We can't get our arms around it at all," Kurtz said.The longer list of polluted waters shows that the state's current standards aren't doing the job, said Earthjustice attorney David Guest, who represented environmental groups in the 2008 lawsuit."When you have numeric standards, you learn things you didn't know before," he said.The state's current standard is akin to waiting for a fish kill or a toxic slime outbreak to determine a water body is polluted, Guest said."That's too late," he said.Guest accused the DEP of using the database as "scare literature" to whip up opposition to the EPA's proposal on the grounds that it will cost too much to clean up all the newly designated water bodies.The DEP database is meant to try to determine whether the EPA proposal is properly assessing water quality in the state's streams, lakes and canals, said Julie Espy, environmental administrator in the DEP's watershed assessment section."If a canal seems to have good water quality to you and it fails (the EPA criteria), you might wonder why is that," she said.Naples News

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