U.S. EPA Approves DEP’s Dissolved Oxygen Criteria to Protect Aquatic Life

TALLAHASSEE – The United States Environmental Protection Agency has approved the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s water quality criteria governing the oxygen levels needed in waterways to protect the aquatic species living there. Water quality criteria are also used to determine the health of the state’s waterways and appropriately guide restoration where needed, and are used to prevent pollution by establishing discharge limits in the permits issued by the Department.

In a letter sent this month, EPA provided an official Clean Water Act approval of Florida’s recently adopted water quality standards addressing dissolved oxygen levels in surface waters. The approval acknowledges the Department’s hard work to update criteria that until now have been based on national guidance developed using studies — not specific to Florida — dating back to the 1960s and 1970s.

“Department experts have invested years evaluating Florida’s unique ecosystems in order to establish these fully protective water quality criteria,” said Drew Bartlett, Deputy Secretary for Water Policy and Ecosystem Restoration. “The old criteria is simply out of date and does not work in Florida’s waterways. The new criteria is specific to Florida’s waterways and the species that live there. EPA has recognized once again that the Department’s water quality standards are sound, both to prevent future pollution and to serve as the targets for restoring the waters we know need help.”

The dissolved oxygen criteria being replaced have in the past resulted in some erroneous conclusions regarding whether aquatic life was appropriately protected. To establish the right criteria for Florida, the Department conducted a comprehensive study of dissolved oxygen levels in streams, lakes and canals across the state. The Department’s extensive data collection effort generated the scientific foundation for more accurate criteria.

The science was peer-reviewed and subsequently used to establish updated statewide criteria for both fresh and marine waters. The Department also used an EPA-recommended methodology to help set protective criteria for Florida’s unique estuaries.

The Department held eight public workshops about the revised dissolved oxygen criteria to solicit input and promote understanding. Florida’s Environmental Regulation Commission approved the criteria in April 2013 and EPA, in turn, approved them on September 9.

“We would like to commend you and your staff for your continued efforts in environmental protection for the State of Florida,” wrote James D. Giattina, Director of EPA’s Water Protection Division, Region 4.

A factsheet about the Department’s Triennial Review of water quality standards is available on the Department’s website along with a technical support document for the revised dissolved oxygen criteria, which includes an easy to understand executive summary.

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