Stormwater Discharges to Impaired Waters

The District and the Department of Environmental Protection (Department) recently issued a joint response to concerns expressed by regulated interests regarding implementation of these permitting criteria. This response is summarized below:

  • The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District), following the direction of the Department of Environmental Protection (Department), has informed permit applicants that stormwater discharges contributing to violations of water quality standards, including discharges to waters designated as impaired in Rule 62-303, Florida Administrative Code, must comply with the net improvement requirements of environmental resource permitting rules.
  • The Department and the District are sensitive to the economic challenges currently facing our state and strive to be as reasonable and flexible as possible in implementing our regulatory programs. However, it is essential, that permitted projects comply with state and federal laws and that the quality of Florida's waters be protected for the benefit of all citizens.
  • The Legislature has determined that “... while point and nonpoint sources of pollution have been managed through numerous programs, better coordination among these efforts and additional management measures may be needed in order to achieve the restoration of impaired water bodies.” (See Section 403.067, Florida Statutes.)
  • In accordance with Section 303(d) of the Federal Clean Water Act, the Department is required to identify and report to the United States Environmental Protection Agency on those waters in Florida that are impaired (not meeting water quality standards). Section 403.067, F.S., establishes the process that must be followed in identifying and restoring impaired waters.
  • The methodology in Chapter 62-303, F.A.C., is used to identify impaired waters. By definition, a verified impaired waters does not meet applicable water quality standards, which is a broad term that includes designated uses, water quality criteria, Florida’s antidegradation policy and moderating provisions.
  • The Department has been designated in Section 403.067, F.S., to “... be the lead agency in administering this [impaired waters] program and shall coordinate with local governments, water management districts, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, local soil and water conservation districts, environmental groups, regulated interests, other appropriate state agencies, and affected pollution sources in developing and executing the total maximum daily load program.” In this capacity, the Department coordinated with all the water management districts (WMDs) to ensure they were properly following a procedure to prevent further degradation of impaired waters. The District is following the direction of the Department in administering this component of the environmental resource permit program.
  • Rule 62-330.301, F.A.C., provides the conditions that must be met for issuing environmental resource permits (ERPs). These same conditions apply to the ERPs issued by the Department and all other WMDs. One of these is that “... an applicant must provide reasonable assurance that the construction, alteration, operation, maintenance, removal or abandonment of a surface water management system ... will not adversely affect the quality of receiving waters such that the water quality standards will be violated.”
  • Section 373.413, F.S., further provides that environmental resource permits may contain reasonable conditions as are necessary to assure that the permit will not be harmful to the water resources of the district.
  • Stormwater discharges have the potential to add loadings of the pollutants that have caused waters to become impaired. Impaired waters do not have the ability to assimilate additional amounts of these pollutants.
  • To prevent further degradation of impaired waters, and to be consistent with federal and state laws and rules, the Department and the WMDs have been requiring stormwater management systems that discharge directly or indirectly into impaired waters to provide net improvement for the pollutants that contribute to the water body’s impairment. To do this, a higher level of treatment is necessary to assure that the permit creates a net improvement in the pollutants that have caused or are contributing to the water body impairment.
  • It is neither prudent nor consistent with federal and state law to allow continued degradation of waters. History has proven that the longer waters are allowed to degrade, the more it will cost to restore the waters to their designated uses in the future.