Water quality debate pits businesses vs. environmentalists

Anyone expecting pyrotechnics at a water quality debate probably left with dampened spirits.

Dennis P. “Duke” Vasey and Jennifer Hecker politely went head to head over new Environmental Protection Agency regulations that have residents confused and divided at Tuesday night’s water quality forum sponsored by the Greater Naples Better Government Committee, the League of Women Voters, the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce and the Naples Daily News.

The debate between environmentalists and the business community over water quality references the EPA’s limits on nutrients in Florida’s rivers and lakes. The nutrients are made up of dissolved nitrogen and phosphorus. Some of the nutrients occur in nature while others seep into Florida’s waters from fertilizer and construction runoff.

Vasey, who is the chairman of the Collier Soil and Water Conservation District said the EPA standards do not take into account the many differences between bodies of water and that the EPA failed to evaluate costs versus benefits. He also argued that a one size fits all solution will not work for Florida waters.

“I am not against good water quality, but I am opposed to the method introduced by the EPA and many of the issues the EPA says qualifies a body of water as impaired occur naturally in nature,” he said. “The EPA nutrient standards misclassify that many bodies of water are impaired and in some instances they are throwing money at a non-problem.”

Hecker, director of Natural Resources for the Conservancy of South Florida said the EPA standards are science-based, that scientists used more than 80,000 samples in setting the guidelines and that the results were peer reviewed. She also said that there is a variety in the bodies of water sampled.

“These are only guidelines for screening and Florida is not being singled out because thirteen other states have nutrient limits for lakes, and nine others have limits for rivers,” she said. “And regarding cost, the EPA estimates the annual increase could be as little as $40 or as much as $70 per household per year.”

But Vasey said the EPA, using averages to arrive at the guidelines, isn’t getting the whole picture. He called the EPA standards a paradigm shift that will have dire consequences and staggering cost in the future. Vasey praised local businesses for doing their part to prevent pollution.

“Most people do not want their water polluted and I am impressed with what our businesses are doing to keep from polluting the water,” he said, and stressed that businesses that use reclaimed water have an even bigger incentive to keep pollutants at bay – they wouldn’t want dangerous water in their soil which could damage or kill plant life.

Hecker emphasized the importance of doing something now to combat future issues that might arise from lack of action.

“The cost of doing nothing is going to be worse if we continue to let our waterways become such that we can’t swim and fish in them,” she said, adding that testing further downstream makes it harder to hold those responsible for pollution accountable.

“Part of these guidelines is to build policies that incentivize companies to be accountable for source control and pollution prevention,” she said. “We are trying to implement the nutrient standard.”

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