Commentary: EPA waters rules are worth the pricetag

Few things are more deadly to a healthy watery ecosystem than algae, much of which comes from nutrients in fertilizers and pollutants that wash from the land into waterways during rainstorms.

Remember when Lake Apopka, once a center for bass fishing in Central Florida, was essentially declared dead, devoid of qualities that could support living organisms? The culprit was land pollution, most notably phosphorus and nitrogen.

Lake Apopka is once again reasonably healthy, thanks to intense cleanup efforts and improved water-quality standards. Now the Environmental Protection Agency proposes new, tougher statewide standards that would ensure there would be no more Lake Apopka travesties.

Despite the opposition of a coalition of agriculture and business groups, state residents should support the EPA's proposals. It's in the interests of every Floridian to have healthy estuaries, rivers, lakes, streams and canals, which not only are used for recreation but also supply some communities' drinking water. Polluted streams and rivers can contaminate offshore fish hatcheries, too, threatening commercial and recreational fishing industries.

Last year the EPA settled a lawsuit with five environmental organizations by agreeing to set higher water-quality standards to limit nutrients. The suit was filed in 2008 after the Florida Department of Environmental Protection reported that half of the state's rivers and more than half of its lakes had poor water quality.

Florida has never had very good water-quality standards. Phosphorus and other pollutants from agriculture and other industries, as well as runoff from ever-growing urban areas, was allowed to be dumped at dangerous rates into waterways.

About a decade ago the EPA gave Florida a 2004 deadline to set tougher pollution limits, but the state was slow to comply. Worse, during the Bush administration, the EPA relaxed its own rules, allowing states to set standards.

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