Commentary: EPA finally moves on Florida's water polluters

Sometimes it pays to get mad. In 2008, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection reported that half of the state's rivers and more than half its lakes had poor water quality.

But the agency had been foot-dragging for years on setting limits on the nutrient runoff from agriculture and sprawling cities with fertilized landscaping and septic systems. So when it looked like the DEP wasn't going to react responsibly to its own report, it was the last straw for five environmental groups.

They sued the DEP and the federal Environmental Protection Agency in the Northern District of Florida. Now comes a consent decree from the EPA in a court settlement. The EPA agreed to define the limits for nutrient poisoning that triggers huge algae blooms that choke off all marine life in lakes, rivers and estuaries. The final deadline for the EPA to offer the numeric limits is October 2010. The DEP will have to enforce those limits.

These waterways aren't just for fishing and recreation. Some are also sources for drinking water. Disinfectants like chlorine and chloramine are used to make water potable. When they mix with the dissolved nutrients, water can be contaminated by dangerous chemical byproducts. Such contamination forced a water-treatment plant to shut down in 2008 in Southwest Florida.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Miami Herald.