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Tuesday, 01 February 2011 07:46

Florida Waters Update

Written by  Random Justice

Feb.  1, 2011

1.    Oil disaster – updates from the Panhandle
2.    Numeric Nutrient Criteria – frivolous lawsuits and what the feds are up to
3.    SSACs and what lies ahead
4.    EPA’s new stormwater guidance and what it should mean for our waters
5.    Bottled water battles
6.    Septic tanks law
7.    Cleaner St. Johns Campaign

1. BP Oil Disaster – large tar mats continue to show up in near shore waters in Escambia County.  BP says they are removing them as quickly as possible.  BP continues to have small work crews in the Gulf Islands National Seashore and in Western Escambia County. Apparently there are many, many large tar mats sitting in shallow water.  The Government doesn’t seem to have any sampling data since September, although there is data trickling in from University scientists.  The Escambia County officials who are in charge of coordinating local efforts regarding the oil disaster, say that they have been reimbursed for their out of pocket expenses that were used to protect Escambia County waters from the oil but they are still waiting to get reimbursed by BP for lost revenues.  Those expenses were submitted several months ago. They also say that they are satisfied right now, with BP’s clean up efforts that are ongoing.  Removing large tar mats from the water and cleaning oil from the sand is difficult and not always possible without doing more damage.  Let’s hope that our leaders in Tallahassee take note and apply this reality as they develop current and future policy related to offshore production.

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2.  Numeric Nutrient Criteria – Since our last update on this subject, several things have happened:
   

a.  a lawsuit was filed by various local utilities and the Atty. General’s office to oppose the Numeric Nutrient Criteria (NNC) that was adopted by EPA for the state of Florida for springs, lakes and flowing streams.  In my opinion this is a frivolous suit and is a waste of our money that is being paid to the Oertel Fernandez Cole & Bryant, P.A. Firm in Tallahassee that is representing several utility companies with sewage plants. Without going into too much detail here, I will just say that I think that the utility companies are being used  (and probably not realizing it) by the big polluters who could be potentially affected by the NNC when and if it is ever implemented. These big polluters would include but not be limited to:  paper mills, power plants, chemical plants, phosphate plants and other heavy industries.  The most interesting thing about the plaintiffs in this lawsuit is that the Emerald Coast Utility Company (Pensacola) doesn’t have any facilities that would be affected and none of the Walton County facilities that are plaintiffs would be affected either. It appears to me that two Bay County facilities could potentially be affected and one contains wastewater from a papermill.  I can’t help but think that these utilities were selected as plaintiffs in order to have standing to file the suit in Pensacola where the most anti-environmental federal judges in the state are located and also perhaps because the management of the utilities are unsophisticated and easy for Ken Oertel to manipulate into thinking that they were at risk.

As I have said over and over, the rule is so weak and full of loopholes, it’s hard to imagine any polluter ever having to do anything in the way of improvement of their discharge.  Using the new NNC rule, most discharges already go far beyond what this rule will require.  If the lawsuit to overturn the rule is successful, it may actually be a benefit in the long-run for our waters that are overly polluted with nutrients.  

EPA has said that implementation will be left up to the state and that’s not likely to happen anytime in the near future.  So, if you are concerned about toxic algal blooms and green springs, then maybe there is some way to get help from your local government.  I would not count on this rule to ever be helpful.
   
    

b.  The EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) released their draft report on EPA’s methodology used to develop numeric nutrient criteria for Florida waters.  That and other information about this rule can be found here:

 http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/wqssp/nutrients/estuarine.htm

Also the EPA will hold a teleconference to discuss the SAB draft report that was recently released.  Here is the information about the teleconference:

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
 

[FRL-9254-5]
Science Advisory Board Staff Office; Notification of a Public 
Teleconference of the Science Advisory Board Nutrient Criteria Review 
Panel
 
AGENCY: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
 
ACTION: Notice.

SUMMARY: The EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) Staff Office announces a 
public teleconference of the SAB Nutrient Criteria Review Panel. The 
Panel will discuss its draft report reviewing EPA's technical support 
document on development of numeric nutrient criteria for Florida's 
estuarine and coastal waters, and southern canals.
 
DATES: The public teleconference will be held on Monday, February 7, 
2011, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. (Eastern Time).
 

ADDRESSES: The public teleconference will be conducted by telephone 
only.
 
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Members of the public who wish to 
obtain further information about this meeting may contact Ms. Stephanie 
Sanzone, Designated Federal Officer (DFO), EPA Science Advisory Board 
Staff Office (1400R),
    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, 
NW., Washington, DC 20460; by telephone/voice mail: (202) 564-2067 or 
via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. General information about the 
SAB is available on the SAB Web site at http://www.epa.gov/sab .
----
 

The DEP held a meeting of the Marine Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC) last week to discuss the state’s proposed comments on the SAB report.  CWN-FL is very concerned over the state’s efforts to bias the SAB/EPA report and eventual criteria that will result.  You can find DEP’s comments at the link above.  CWN-FL will be sending comments to the SAB as well and if you would like to read our comments, then please go to our website where they will be posted under “Issues” and the “Water Quality Standards”.  You will also find them under discussions on our Facebook pages (Clean Water Network of Florida and Florida Clean Water Network). You will also find on our website on the “Water Quality Standards” page, our comment letter from December, that we sent to the MTAC on the Marine Numeric Nutrient Criteria. Please keep an eye on our website for frequent updates on all of our work as we have been very busy writing letters, having meetings with EPA and other actions that you may find helpful to your work.

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3.  SSACs and what lies ahead – one of the many problems with EPA’s new NNC for Florida’s freshwaters is that it encourages the use of Site Specific Alternative Criteria (SSAC) for waters that don’t easily meet the criteria in the new rule.  Both Florida and EPA already have provisions for SSAC with Florida’s criteria being much, much more flexible.  DEP has already said that it plans to use SSACs for many Florida waters that are highly polluted.  When we won a lawsuit over the nutrient/dissolved oxygen limits for the St. Johns River, DEP simply changed their SSAC regulation to allow for a SSAC almost anywhere and for any reason and weakened the criteria for dissolved oxygen so that the pollution could continue to flow into the St. Johns River. So, we have good reason to be cynical and concerned.

EPA’s NNC rule allows applications for new SSACs starting this week, while the rule will not go into affect for 13 more months. The policy for the federal SSAC process is not clear and EPA will be holding a webinar on the subject in the very near future.  If you want to attend the webinar, contact Lauren Petter at EPA (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) and she will send you the information.

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4.  EPA’s new stormwater guidance and what it should mean for our waters – In November the US EPA released new guidance for MS4 permits (stormwater pollution from urban areas).  The guidance was released from Washington DC and there are indications that Region 4 intends to ignore it.  However, there are some encouraging improvements in the guidance over the previous statement that was released in 2002.  CWN-FL and the Conservancy of SW Florida submitted comments to Florida and EPA on the proposed new MS4 permit for Lee County and relied heavily on the new guidance and some recent court decisions (as well as clear language in the Clean Water Act) to push for a better permit.  While we have absolutely no hope that Florida DEP will pay any attention to our comments, we are hoping that Region 4 will notice our concerns and that it will not be necessary to litigate over the Region 4 indifference to the new national approach. The comment letter should be available on the CWN-FL website very soon if you care to read it.  

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5. Bottled water battles – A message from our member group Save the Wacissa. Please help these folks save their springs and river if you can:

Nestle Waters, the largest water bottling company in North America is currently in the exploratory stages of pursuing water extraction from the Wacissa river springs system. Protectors of Wacissa River River Springs (PoWRS) and  Friends of the Wacissa (FTW), represent a growing coalition that opposes water extraction for commercial water bottling from the Wacissa river springs.  The Wacissa River is designated an Outstanding Florida Waterway. Please help protect the Wacissa River. 
MORE: http://www.savethewacissa.com

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6.  Septic Tanks law – The Legislature is poised to rescind the new law that would require septic tank inspections.  Please contact your legislators and let them know that Florida needs to address this serious water pollution problem.  Here is an excerpt from a letter sent to us by Linda Bystrak which I believe makes a compelling case:

“According to the state Department of Health, the average septic system in Florida only lasts 17 years because they are not properly maintained. The DOH recommends that the tanks be pumped every three to five years. The new state law is recommending every five years. The average cost in Lake County is $200-$250, depending on size. This is a small amount compared to what residents pay over five years who have sewer bills.

A failed septic tank can leach sewage into the groundwater below that property. It is to the benefit of the homeowner and their neighbors to have the tank maintained. Broken or overflowing tanks can also contribute nutrients and E. coli to local waterways.

The Saint Johns River Water Management District assumes that 5 percent of the homes within 200 meters of the Harris Chain of Lakes have failed septic systems.

We need to pump, inspect and repair those failed septic tanks, especially around waterfronts. It has been estimated that there are at least 5,300 homes with tanks adjacent to the Harris Chain of Lakes.

In 2009, the LCWA paid to have Haines Creek water samples tested at 10 locations along Haines Creek over a 13-week period (June to August). Three sites had E. coli levels higher than those required to close a beach, and seven sites had fecal coliform readings over the 400 level of concern, yet the public was never informed because there are no beaches along Haines Creek. Only fishermen, boaters and kayakers like me use the creek.

With 1,400 lakes no other inland county needs a septic tank pumping regulation more than Lake County. Yet there appears to be no concern or "political will" to correct the problem. There should be because too many nutrients (some from sewage) cause our lakes to look green with algae, which certainly does not help our real estate values. Dense algal growth decreases the distance a fish can see a fishing lure, thus affecting our tourism economy. Pumping more septic tanks could also create more jobs that we desperately need.”

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7. Cleaner St. Johns Campaign – Our friends at the St. Johns Riverkeeper have launched a public education campaign to stop GP’s push to start building the pipe to the river.  Please go to this link to sign the petition and help with this important effort -- Since 1947, the Georgia-Pacific paper mill in Palatka has discharged its wastewater into Rice Creek, a tributary of the St. Johns River. Unable to meet water quality standards in Rice Creek, Georgia-Pacific wants to build a pipeline almost four miles long to discharge its waste into the heart of the St. Johns River.
MORE: http://www.cleanergp.com/

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There’s a lot going on.  This is just the tip of the iceberg.  If you would like further details on any of these issues, please drop me a note and I’ll send more.  We don’t know exactly what to expect from our new Governor and the very pro-business legislature, but it should be interesting.  

For all Florida’s waters,

Linda Young

Director
Clean Water Network of Florida
PO Box 254, Tallahassee FL 32302
Phone 850-322-7978
Young Linda <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
http://www.cleanwaternetwork-fl.org

Last modified on Tuesday, 01 February 2011 08:05
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