Water Managers Urge Court to Not Extend Federal Permitting Over State Water Transfers

Final Arguments will be heard Thursday on extending Federal Permitting to the S-2, S-3 and S-4 pump stations on the south shore of Lake Okeechobee. These stations help provide critical flood control and water supply in the region.
In a case which will have nation-wide consequences, U.S. District Court Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga in Miami will hear final arguments on Thursday as to whether to require the State to obtain National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for the South Florida Water Management District’s S-2, S-3 and S-4 pumping stations just south of Lake Okeechobee.
“We strongly believe that an adverse ruling would constitute a misapplication of the law,” said Nicolas Gutierrez, a board member and immediate past chairman of the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board. Mr. Gutierrez, a Miami attorney said, “Congress never intended for governmental entities to obtain permits for moving water for flood control and water management purposes.”
The South Florida Water Management District’s governing Board’s position is that to expand NPDES permitting to include the movement of waters within the District is beyond the scope of the Clean Water Act. The focus of the Clean Water Act is in controlling point-source pollution, not the simple movement of water for public protection within the states.
Authorized by federal law in the Clean Water Act, NPDES permits are used to control water pollution by regulating discharge of pollutants into U.S. waters.
A group of plaintiffs, (Friends of the Everglades, Fishermen against Destruction of the Environment, Florida Wildlife Federation and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida) has sued the South Florida Water Management District, suggesting that an NPDES permit is required even to move water for public welfare.
The District’s position has been supported in the trial that started in early January by the U.S. Department of Justice. Additional water resources entities from other states also support the District’s position.
State permits and protections are already in place to ensure a safe water supply for communities in the region.  In its water management activities, the District is in full compliance with the requirements of these state permits.
Introducing NPDES requirements to the occasional, flood-control need for water transfers into Lake Okeechobee will significantly impair the progress now being made in Everglades restoration.  The $8 billion cost of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) would increase if movement of all surface waters was subjected to NPDES permitting.  The District’s accelerated CERP projects (Acceler8) and its Lake Okeechobee & Estuary Recovery plan (LOER), which are moving ahead at an impressive pace, would be brought to a virtual halt by the expense and time required for additional permitting.
To date, the State of Florida has spent $1.5 billion in Everglades restoration, representing a long-term commitment to improving the region’s water resources and natural areas.
With extensive water quality controls already being implemented and others being developed – in addition to the ambitious progress in phosphorus reduction already being achieved – the expansion of NPDES permitting would only impair, not improve, ecosystem recovery in South Florida.

About The South Florida Water Management District
The South Florida Water Management District is a regional, governmental agency that oversees the water resources in the southern half of the state – 16 counties from Orlando to the Keys.  It is the oldest and largest of the state’s five water management districts.  The agency mission is to manage and protect water resources of the region by balancing and improving water quality, flood control, natural systems and water supply.  A key initiative is cleanup and restoration of the Everglades.