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Sierra Club - Clean Water for Florida

Nutrient Pollution Standards Campaign

Check out our fun presentation for kids of all ages PDF FILE HERE


See our Florida Slime Tracker Map

Confused about the EPA Decision on
Numeric Nutrient Criteria?

If you couldn't figure out the latest on the EPA and Florida's Nutrient Criteria, you were not alone. But, we can help! Download this great fact sheet on the decision. Fact Sheet on the EPA Decison

November 2012: Telling the EPA to protect Florida's water

Earlier in 2012, the Sierra Club and our coalition partners sent more than 40,000 letters to President Obama demanding action to clean up the slime in Florida's waterways. Thanks to dedicated supporters, we've gotten the EPA's attention, and they are considering a strong nutrient criteria to protect our water.

Over the past few months, we've had massive algae outbreaks with dead fish washing up along the Indian River and along the southwest Florida gulf coast. People are complaining of respiratory problems and health officials are warning people to avoid the water. What was once a summer slime season has now become a year-long phenomenon. This is a disaster for Florida's health and the economy.

Polluter lobbyists in Tallahassee and in Washington, D.C. are still pushing for ineffective standards written for Gov. Rick Scott by our state's biggest polluters. They want the state to substitute their loophole-ridden mumbo jumbo for the clear, enforceable standards developed by the EPA. We can't let the polluters win this one.

Our water, our health, our economy, and our way of life is at risk from this toxic slime. With a strong pollution limit enforced by the EPA, we can finally stop the slime and begin to clean up our water.

Florida Slime Crimes

No Water for the Caloosahatchee.
Message from the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation
April 6, 2012

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have cut off all water flow to the Caloosahatchee. Toxic algae has started blooming in the river as a result.

Three weeks ago the SFWMD Governing Board made a decision to cut off all freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee Estuary. This decision singles out the Caloosahatchee -- NO OTHER WATER USERS are even asked to conserve or restricted from using their full demand! This past week, the Army Corps of Engineers, who has the option to override the SFWMD recommendation, succumbed and cut off all flow to the Caloosahatchee.

The Caloosahatchee and Estuary are dependent upon freshwater releases during the dry season and drought years. Without flow the river and estuary have two problems: 1) the estuary becomes too salty upriver and 2) upstream of the lock, the water stagnates and becomes a breeding ground for toxic algae blooms.

When the estuary is too salty it devastates snook, blue crab and shrimp breeding habitat, causing a total loss of tape grass that Manatees depend upon for food in the winter months. Lack of fresh water flow causes stagnation of the river upstream of the lock which results in the formation of toxic blue green algae blooms that contain nervous system and liver toxins, affect respiration and can cause skin eruptions.
These impacts also impact our local economy which is heavily dependent upon the quality of our waters to attract visitors, businesses and our quality of life. All we are asking is for fair access to life-giving water. If one user is cut back due to low water levels, all should be cut back in equal measure.

Please write, email and call both the SFWMD Governing Board and Corps of Engineers. Ask them to resume these vital releases. Please also call the Army Corps as they retain the ability to override the District at present lake levels. There are links to sample letters to the SFWMD and Corps of Engineers can be found on our website .

Campaign Update
December 2011: Earthjustice Files Suit to Protect Floridians' Right to Clean Water
Earthjustice filed the administrative challenge in the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings on behalf of the Sierra Club, the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John’s Riverkeeper, and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

Earthjustice today filed a legal challenge against Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) because the state agency is failing to protect residents and tourists from nauseating -- and dangerous -- toxic algae outbreaks.

Background: In 2008, after years of seeing toxic algae outbreaks on Florida tourist beaches like Sanibel Island and at fishing destinations like the St. Johns River, Earthjustice filed a Clean Water Act federal lawsuit in the Northern District of Florida on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John’s Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club. In 2009, the EPA set numeric limits for the phosphorus and nitrogen that comes from sewage, fertilizer and manure in Florida waters.

The rule that the EPA set for Florida was a “speed limit sign” that gave everyone fair notice of what specific level of pollution would be allowed in a particular water body. If the speed limit was exceeded, regulators could take action to prevent toxic algae outbreaks and green slime.

But, now, the DEP’s rule doesn’t provide that certainty, and it won’t protect public health. "The DEP rule basically says: 'Well, there could be a speed limit sign here, but we need to do a study first and then we'll decide.' Under the state DEP rule, by the time the state takes action, a waterway is already slimed. The whole point is to clean it up before it gets that bad," said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation.

"The state DEP rule was basically written by lobbyists for corporate polluters," said attorney David Guest. "Polluters know it is cheaper for them to use our public waters as their private sewers, and the state is giving them the green light to keep doing it."

The Sierra Club offered photographic proof today of the dire need for immediate cleanup action. The Club unveiled an online map of Florida’s slimed waterways, which stretch from South Florida to the Panhandle. "With the help of local citizens and clean water watchdogs all over the state, the Sierra Club has compiled photos of the red and green muck that plagues too many of the springs, rivers, lakes and bays of our state. This map lets you take a photographic 'slime tour' of Florida – and it is not a pretty picture," said Craig Diamond, Executive Committee, Sierra Club Florida Chapter.

Read more: Here is the link to the fact sheet - The Truth about DEP's Faux Numeric Nutrient Standards

Press Release
November 2011: Federal and State Regulators Buckle
Under Polluter Pressure

Contact: Cris Costello, 941-914-0421, 941-951-6084,

TALLAHASSEE – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s thumbs up today for Florida’s polluter-friendly water quality rules is a loss for families who deserve clean water.

Today, the EPA sent a letter (here) to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection announcing its preliminary approval of draft state regulations on sewage, manure and fertilizer pollution. This preliminary approval is being given by the EPA without that agency’s having reviewed the technical comments provided by Florida’s water quality advocates.

Rudy Scheffer, Sierra Club Florida Steering Committee Chair, said “The Florida DEP proposed rule won’t prevent the outbreaks of toxic green slime that currently plague the state, killing fish, fouling drinking water, closing swimming areas, and causing illness in people and livestock. It will leave us right where we are now: waiting until it is too costly and too late to protect our families and our jobs from sick water.”

“EPA caved to congressional pressure to put polluter interests above those of the Florida public. Who will be the losers? Local waterfront communities, homeowners with sinking property values, and everyone who fishes, swims, boats or drinks water in the state” said Frank Jackalone, Florida Staff Director of the Sierra Club.

The FDEP proposed rule takes all the pressure of the state’s biggest industrial polluters and instead places it on taxpayers and local governments; it also gives the state legislature complete control over the future of Florida’s water resources, including the ability to defund the implementation and enforcement of the rule.

The state’s Environmental Regulation Commission will hear a presentation on the DEP’s draft rule at a meeting in Tallahassee tomorrow. If the ERC signs off on the draft rule, it goes before the Florida Legislature in the 2012 session. The EPA will then have the opportunity to approve or deny the state’s final rule.

Earthjustice filed suit to compel the EPA to set limits on sewage, manure and fertilizer pollution in 2008 in the Northern District of Florida on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, and St. John’s Riverkeeper.

Slimed Florida waterways devastate waterfront property values. Cape Coral is a prime example:

Cape Coral - 2005

Cape Coral - 2010

Find out what you can do: Call staff lead Cris Costello, 941-914-0421, 941-951-6084,


Nutrient pollution in Florida is a controversial issue. In 2010 we have concurrently experienced a 100 mile long toxic algae bloom and accompanying fish kill in the St. Johns River, and a full court press from the state’s largest polluters to delay and defeat efforts to meet the Clean Water Act provisions that would prevent such an environmental and economic disaster.

The connection between urban fertilizer management and the lawsuit filed and settled in federal court by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups to require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to impose quantifiable – and enforceable – limits (numeric nutrient criteria) for fertilizer, sewage and animal waste runoff is an important one. The first set of numeric nitrogen and phosphorous limits, those relating to lakes and flowing waters, go into effect November 2010. Florida communities are now looking for the lowest cost alternatives for reducing nutrient loads to area water bodies, both to meet the new criteria and to protect their economic engines from the type of environmental disaster experienced on the St. Johns River.

Strong urban fertilizer management is the least costly of possible alternatives and can be instituted and effective immediately. It is far more cost-effective to prevent nutrient pollution than it is to utilize hundreds of thousands or millions of tax dollars in restoration efforts for impaired waters – the cost of removing nitrogen from water resources runs from $40,000-$200,000 per ton. For this reason, the communities along the southwest gulf coast so devastated by the Red Tide blooms of 2005 were the first in the state to adopt strong fertilizer ordinances.

The cost of meeting the EPA proposed numeric nutrient criteria has been the rallying point for those (utilities, agriculture and industry) who oppose the new standards. However, cities and counties can reduce nutrient pollution at little or no cost by adopting strong urban fertilizer rules.

For example, in 2008 the Tampa Bay Estuary Program established a model fertilizer and landscape ordinance that with 50% compliance would prevent an estimated 30 tons of nitrogen per year from entering Tampa Bay from Hillsborough County alone at a negligible cost; the seasonal sales ban would have acted as enforcement for the application ban. In Tampa Bay, those 30 tons prevented would offset the annual nitrogen discharge from five wastewater treatment plants, thereby saving tax payers dollars spent on waste water treatment.

Download our full paper on Water Quality Standards.

Archive of the Campaign before August 2011 can be found
on our new Campaign Archive page.

Sierra Club Florida Nutrient Standards Campaign can always use more volunteers. If you want to help out, please contact Cris Costello, Field Organizer - For other questions you can email the

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