The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed water-quality standards for Florida that would for the first time set numeric limits on nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen in that state. Nitrogen and phosphorous pollution comes from stormwater and agricultural runoff as well as municipal wastewater treatment.

Normally, states are responsible for developing their own water-quality standards. EPA says it is taking the action, announced on Jan. 15, as a result of a 2009 consent decree between the EPA and the Florida Wildlife Federation. The wildlife organization filed a lawsuit in 2008 seeking to require EPA to develop numeric water-quality standards for the state, claiming such standards were necessary to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act. A 2008 Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection report showed many of the state’s waters were not meeting water-quality standards because of excess nutrients.

The consent decree required EPA to develop numeric standards for lakes and flowing waters in Florida by January 2010 and for the state’s estuarine and coastal waters by January 2011.

EPA is proposing different total nitrogen, total phosphorous and total chlorophyll limits in different areas. The proposal also would introduce a new regulatory process for setting standards that uses statistical analysis as a tool.

Although EPA has said the standards are unique to Florida, some groups are skeptical. Susan Bruninga, spokeswoman for the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, says the benchmarks could “set a precedent for activists in other states” to file lawsuits that aim to force EPA to intervene. Bruninga says that “enviros have already signaled their intent to sue” in other states, such as Wisconsin. She adds that municipal wastewater treatment plants in Florida already have made a substantial investment on retrofits.

EPA will seek public comment for 60 days after the proposal is published in the Federal Register and hold three public hearings.