WEST PALM BEACH — Water managers reviewed the rules for reducing nutrient load in the Lake Okeechobee, Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie watersheds in the 40E-61 Rule workshop, streamed online on June 3.
South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Science Supervisor Steffany Olson started the workshop with a review of the history of the Chapter 40E-61 Florida Administrative Code (F.A.C.) and changes required by recent legislation.
The rule safeguards Florida’s water resources, she said.
She said they must amend Lake Okeechobee watershed and create rules for the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie watersheds.
There is a gap in each of these watersheds from where they are now to where they needed to be to meet Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) limits, she explained.
“These watersheds have been identified by DEP to have impaired water qualities for which water quality goals TMDLs have been established,” she said. DEP has established a phosphorus goal for Lake Okeechobee, a nitrogen goal for the Caloosahatchee and both phosphorus and nitrogen goals for the St. Lucie.
Restoration efforts have evolved over time, she said. Many statutory changes have made the existing rules obsolete.
During the 2020 session, the Florida Legislature passed Section 85 of House Bill 5003 also impacts the rulemaking.
She said DEP, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and SFWMD work together to achieve the restoration goals.
2016 Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program (NEEPP) directs SFWMD to:
• Amend existing rules for Lake Okeechobee watershed;
• Develop new rules for Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie River watersheds;
• Provide a monitoring program for non-point source discharges; and,
• Develop and update watershed protection plans including nutrient reduction and storage projects, and water quality monitoring.
She said the draft rules will include watershed assessments and individual landowner monitoring requirements.
The district will work with DEP to target problem areas and meet the goals for the basin management plans, she said.
Landowners who are not implementing FDACS best management practices (BMPs) must have a plan to meet DEP standards for water quality.
During public comments, those watching online asked about legacy phosphorus both in the watershed and already in the muck at the bottom of Lake Okeechobee.
“What is the legacy phosphorus loading that may be coming from the canal system itself?” asked Nyla Pipes of One Florida. “How much phosphorus is being put into the lake simply because of our drainage and our canal system?” she said.
“There are some studies that have shown over the years that our flood control system itself and the sheer makeup of the state, geologically, may very well be a part of our problem.
“Some of what you find in those canals in the monitoring may well be coming from an internal source in the canal,” she said.
The 40-E 61 Rule will be discussed at future SFWMD governing board meetings.