On July 26, 2016, by a sharply divided 3-2 vote, the Florida Environmental Regulation Commission (“ERC”) approved new changes to Florida’s surface water standards.

What is the ERC?

The ERC is a seven-member board (with two seats currently vacant) that is tasked with setting the standards and rules for Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) relating to air pollution, water quality, and waste management.

Florida’s Human Health Criteria

As a state containing over 50,000 miles of rivers and streams, 7,800 lakes, and 4,000 square miles of estuaries, Florida has an abundance of surface waters which are used for a variety of purposes.

Florida’s Human Health Criteria are health-based water quality standards that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and FDEP set to ensure individuals can safely swim, drink, and eat seafood from our state’s surface waters. While under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) states are required to periodically review and adopt changes to modify these standards, Florida’s existing standards have not been updated since 1992.

What’s the Legal Scoop?

In accordance with the CWA, FDEP proposed rules that impose limits on 39 chemicals which are currently without standards. In addition, the rules provide an update on the already-allowed limits for 43 other chemicals. Under the rules, some of the state’s chemicals will be subject to more stringent standards, while others (including benzene) will have limits less stringent than the existing standards.

Although concerns have been expressed by both environmentalists and the regulated community about the new rules, the ERC’s Chair, Ms. Cari Roth, has recently issued a statement explaining that “[t]he complex methodology used to generate these new standards is sound, and conservative in favor of the public health.” According to Ms. Roth, the ERC’s decision was good for the health and well-being of the citizens of Florida, and “[a]fter almost 25 years, it was time to make progress.”

Following the ERC’s recent approval, the criteria will now be sent to the EPA for final review and approval. If you have any questions regarding the new FDEP water quality standards or general inquiries about environmental or land use law, please contact me by email at austin.turner@henlaw.com or by telephone at (239) 344-1178.

Photo courtesy of Gail Lamarche.