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Prioritizing Problem Discharges in Florida

Program Overview

In 1990, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) started a program of environmental assessments known as the "Fifth Year Inspection" (FYI) review. Because an NPDES facility's permit is subject to review every five years, an evaluation of the facility's effluent quality and its impacts on the receiving waters is conducted during the nine-month period before the permit expires. During this process, the permit writer determines if the current permit limits are sufficiently protective of the environment or if changes are needed. Prior to implementation of the FYI program, the permit writer had to rely on fairly limited data, most of which was provided by the permittee. Since Florida implemented biocriteria, however, the availability of monitoring information on biota at regional reference sites has provided a benchmark for incorporating site-specific biological information into the permit writer's decision-making process.

FYI Review Components

  • Toxics Sampling Inspection-chemical analyses of effluent for priority pollutants
  • Compliance Biomonitoring Inspection-effluent bioassays (fish and invertebrate)
  • Water Quality Inspection-bacteria, nutrients, algal growth potential, suspended solids, turbidity
  • Impact Bioassessment Inspection
    • benthic macroinvertebrates and algae (taxa richness, diversity, numbers of pollution-sensitive taxa, and community structure)
    • habitat assessment

The FYI program uses several types of information: chemical analyses and toxicity testing of the effluent, in-stream water quality assessment, and assessment of benthic macroinvertebrate and algal communities in the receiving water. Bioassessments are typically conducted at a location upstream of the discharge and a location within the influence of the discharge; habitat assessment is also performed at each location. Facilities are selected for this intensive evaluation when FDEP staff have reason to believe the discharge may be having adverse impacts on the receiving water.

If the results of the FYI review indicate severe violations that are clearly linked to the facility, enforcement may be initiated immediately. If the FYI results are less conclusive or the violations are of a more moderate nature, further study or corrective actions may be included as a condition of the new permit.

The DEP believes that studies of algal and macroinvertebrate communities have been among the agency's most cost-effective and successful tools for assessing overall ecosystem health. The advantages of using algae and benthic invertebrates include their ease of sampling, their strategic positions in the food web, and their ability to respond quickly (within days or weeks) to human, physical, or water quality disturbances.

Lesson Learned

Biological assessment information has become an important component of Florida's Fifth Year Inspection process, which provides the information necessary to evaluate an NPDES facility's impact on its receiving waters and to make specific recommendations for permit renewal conditions.

Additional Information

Steve Wolfe (steve.wolfe@dep.state.fl.usat) at (850-921-9830)
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