Live Oak —
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection kicked off the first of six statewide meetings Tuesday at the Suwannee River Water Management District Headquarters in Live Oak. DEP is gathering input from the public regarding its water quality assessment and restoration priorities over the next two years, according to DEP officials.
The meeting began at 9:30 a.m., with Julie Epsy, DEP program administrator, introducing department officials who gave presentations during the meeting.
Kevin O’Donnell and Alan Pushon, environmental administrator for DEP provided the audience with recent updates and changes to the department’s assessment methods.
Greg DeAngelo, DEP watershed evaluation and total maximum daily load program, talked about new strategies and priorities for the next two years.
Beth Alvi, a representative of the DEP’s watershed restoration program, spoke about the Basin Management Action Plan strategy and priorities.
"Each year, the department must determine how to deploy its resources most effectively to advance water quality restoration,” said Tom Frick, director of DEP’s Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration. “Because our programs can’t succeed without stakeholder cooperation and action, we are committed to taking advantage of local perspectives and priorities to better inform our watershed work plans.”
To restore and protect Florida’s surface waters, the department collects water quality data through its own monitoring programs and with the help of other agencies. The data is then analyzed to determine which rivers, lakes, streams, springs, and estuaries do not meet Florida’s water quality standards and are thus “impaired.”
For each impaired waterbody or group of related waters, the department develops and adopts a scientifically derived restoration target, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load. Based on the target, the Department, in conjunction with local stakeholders, develops and implements a restoration plan to return the waterbody to health.
At the meeting, staff explained the assessment and restoration process and presented the department's proposed 2014 strategic monitoring plan. They also presented the preliminary two-year work plan for establishing TMDLs in local watersheds.
The department also shared information on a new analytical tool, developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and adopted by the state, which was used in developing the preliminary work plans. The tool accounts for multiple factors affecting restoration such as the natural characteristics of the watershed, the pollutant of concern and the severity of the pollution problem, and key social factors that may influence success. These factors were weighted and the results used to help identify what problems to tackle first.
The next meeting will be held in West Palm Beach on March 5. To learn more, visit http://www.dep.state.fl.us/.
Reporter Bryant Thigpen contributed to this article.