On Tuesday, Judge Robert Hinkle approved the motion by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to modify the 2009 consent decree between the agency and environmental groups.  This Order essentially allows the state rather than the federal government to adopt and enforce water quality standards.  Although the state had promulgated numeric nutrient criteria, which were subsequently approved by the Environmental Regulation Commission, the Florida Legislature and the EPA, the rules could not be implemented without a modification of the consent decree.

The modification was necessary to conform the consent decree with amendments made to the EPA’s initial determination of necessity: First, that Florida’s downstream protection approach was sufficient to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act; and Second, that that some water bodies (such as streams, marine lakes, and water management canals) did not require numeric criteria to comply with the Clean Water Act.

In the Order, Judge Hinkle stated that the consent decree explicitly provided that the EPA need not adopt standards if the agency approved those proposed by the state, and therefore, the establishment of standards is the state’s job in the first instance.  The DEP immediately issued the following statement:

We are thrilled by today’s ruling by United States District Judge Robert L. Hinkle granting U.S. EPA’s motion to modify the consent decree to discontinue federal rulemaking and allow the Department to implement the most comprehensive numeric nutrient criteria in the nation.

The Department can finally implement these additional standards for our treasured waterways, especially our unique set of springs, spring runs, lakes and estuaries. This is the necessary catalyst to move beyond litigation and end needless delays that prevented us from applying these additional protections.

The Department would like to acknowledge our dedicated scientists, and thank EPA for working diligently to position Florida as the only state in nation with comprehensive criteria set for all rivers, streams, lakes, springs, estuaries, and coastal waters.

Not only are the state’s rules the most comprehensive standards in the nation, no other state has even come close to adopting complete nutrient standards that cover all lakes, rivers, streams, springs and estuaries, providing 99 percent coverage of all state waterways.

This marks a significant step forward in protecting and restoring water quality across Florida.