General Development


August 1, 2009

Florida Water Quality
By David H. Farmer, PE, AICP
David H. Farmer, PE, AICP  is Managing Principal of Kesytone Development Advisors in Naples, Florida and can be reached at or (239) 263-1100

In July 2010 the State of Florida will be adopting new rules regulating the quality of water discharged into the state's waterways.  The new rule requirements will be based on quantifiable and measurable numeric values.  Presently, Florida’s water quality standards are in narrative form versus a numeric form. Florida Administrative Code (FAC) states that “in no case shall nutrient concentrations of body of water be altered so as to cause an imbalance in natural populations of flora or fauna.” The narrative criteria also states that (for all waters of the state) "the discharge of nutrients shall continue to be limited as needed to prevent violations of other standards contained in this chapter [Chapter 62-302, FAC].  The purpose of the new rules is to provide “better means to protect state waters from the adverse effects of nutrient over enrichment” according to FDEP’s website.
On one hand, water quality rules and criteria are nothing new to Florida.  In fact, Florida’s original stormwater rule was adopted in 1981 and went into effect in February 1982. On the other hand, new rules presently being drafted will have a much wider impact in terms of cost to new development, redevelopment and municipalities than existing standards.  To be fair, the FDEP is not looking for ways to make life more difficult; rather, the department is reacting to a mandate by the EPA to adopt or enforce higher standards for water quality throughout the state (or else!).   
Water quality is measured in terms of nutrient loading.  The most common substances of concern are nitrogen and phosphorous.  Limiting and reducing nutrient loads is important for the sustainability of the environment. High nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations in stormwater runoff impact wildlife and human health. Nitrates may be toxic and can cause liver damage and cancer. Phosphorus may trigger toxic algal blooms and excessive aquatic weeds in fresh water bodies as well as endanger the source of drinking waters.  Other common pollutants of concern include ammonia, nitrite, orthophosphate and total dissolved phosphorus.    Nitrogen, particularly nitrate, easily moves from the land into surface and groundwater, including lakes, streams, rivers, and estuaries.  Florida aquifers are particularly vulnerable to impacts related to runoff from land development activities in high recharge areas where the ground water (aquifer) is not confined by a layer of clay or cap-rock. Nitrate concentrations have been steadily increasing in aquifer springs since the 1950s.
In March 2009, the state set the stormwater rule standard level of treatment as 80% nutrient load reduction (95% for discharges to OFWs i.e. most property in SWF) OR post-development nutrient load not exceeding predevelopment nutrient load (where predevelopment is native vegetative).
What does this rule change mean to you?  The answer is complicated but one very important variable is the depth from the ground surface to the water table.  If the depth to the water table is more than 2’, the impact will be minor.  If the depth to the water table is less than 2’ the impact could be quite significant.  Typical residential and commercial projects in Southwest Florida permitted after July 2010 may require an additional 30% of water management area to meet the new rule requirements.  In round numbers, new developments may lose 4% or more of precious developable (buildable) property.
What will the impact be to the bottom line?  A 10 acre commercial site could lose over 17,000 square feet of buildable land.  In South Florida that means about $300,000 in permanently lost revenue.  The same 10 acre site developed as residential could lose 2-3 lots due to the new rules resulting in a $50,000-$300,000 revenue reduction.  Neither case above is going to bring an end to development, but added to existing government regulations there will be an increase in risk with a decrease in profit.
What can be done for your clients?  After the new rule has been formally adopted, all new development projects will be required to meet the new standards.  Now is the time to start planning and determining how this will affect a given project.  In a recent meeting with Water Management District representatives, we were notified that if a permit has not been issued by the time the rule is adopted the project will have to be redesigned to comply with the new rule.
To summarize, the state’s existing water quality rules will be updated and enforced with numeric standards in July 2010.  The new water quality rule will impact all new development and municipal sewer discharges in the State of Florida.  Now is the time to get informed  and make your voice heard by attending a public workshop on July 22, 2009 at the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort in the Coconut Meeting Room from 8:30 am until noon.



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