The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has just begun a rule-making process to update their water quality criteria for the State's recreational waters. Florida is the first state in the country to undertake this task since the U. S. EPA released their new water quality recommendations in November of 2012. The EPA's recommendations include a number of different options for states to choose from to manage their beaches, some more protective of public health than others. Read more about EPA's revised criteria here.
The current standard applied at Florida's beaches is appropriately based on Enterococcus bacteria, but the state is using outdated fecal bacteria criteria to determine safety and impaired conditions at the rest of Florida's ample surface waters that are designated for recreational contact (or swimming!). The rule making process will not only revise the standards to be applied at all of Florida's recreational waters, but will also provide guidance on determining impairments and allowable pollution loads, or Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs), for the waters where fecal standards are currently applied. The DEP is convening a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) of in-state experts to advise them in this process.
There is also a new state of the art laboratory in Tallahasee that is beginning to assemble a suite of genetic tests and markers that will be used to track the sources of beach and water pollution and provide guidance for solution strategies.
This is big news for Florida's beaches. This rulemaking process should modernize the way Florida protects its waters and the public's use of those waters. We hope it leads to real actions being taken to identify and fix sources of beach pollution.
We hope it does not lead to less protective standards and a greater tolerance for pollution at the beach.
Press Release from the FLDEP.
Media coverage of the rulemaking process and beach protection in Florida.