12 --?- Y0
DER Can Redeem Itself
On 'Outstanding Waters'
The state Department of Environ-
mental Regulation made itself a
laughingstock. In its ill-advised plan to
overhaul the Florida Outstanding Wa-
ters program, it asserted Florida had
no waters of national significance.
It can put an end to the scorn by
strengthening the plan.
Pushed by environmentalists to
make the state program consistent
with the federal Clean Water Act,
DER officials recommended creating
three categories for outstanding state
waters: those of local or regional sig-
nificance, those of state significance,
and those of national significance.
Whether a waterway is wild and clean
would be among the factors determin-
ing its designation.
Each category would rate different
But, strangely, DER could not find
a Florida water body worthy of the
national designation. The Everglades,
an ecological system unique to Flori-
da, didn't make the grade. Nor did the
Florida Keys, which harbor the only
coral reefs in the continental United
States. Apalachicola Bay, renowned
for its seafood, wasn't deemed worthy.
Nor was the historic Suwannee River.
The Little Manatee River and Tampa
Bay's three state aquatic preserves
were discounted. So were the more
than 20 lakes, rivers and estuarine ar-
eas designated as Florida Outstanding
Yet, under DER's plan, only waters
deemed of national importance would
receive stringent protections. Some
pollution would be allowed in waters
receiving the lesser designations. In-
deed, the plan would allow effluent to
be discharged in some outstanding
waters. The proposal made a joke of
the effort to preserve the state's re-
iaining pristine waters.
Environmentalists howled. DER of-
ficials lamely replied that no Florida
water met the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency's criteria for a na-
tionally significant water.
Did DER officials really believe
EPA would say that Everglades Na-
tional Park, which the United Nations
proclaimed of international impor-
tance, was not nationally significant?
EPA officials-say they are leaving it
to the states to establish which water
bodies they recommend for EPA's
Outstanding National Resource Wa-
ters designation, aimed at preserving
the nation's most valuable waters.
Granted, federal requirements can be
a puzzle, but other states are promot-
ing rivers and lakes for the national
designation without worrying about
arcane EPA language.
DER's meek stand also contradicts
the state's own effort to include Tam-
pa and Sarasota Bay in a federal pro-
gram for estuaries that are
considered of national value.
Stung by accusations it was sabo-
taging the water program to allow
more waterfront development, DER is
reconsidering its plan.
It should. A narrow, bureaucratic
approach to the matter does an injus-
tice to Governor Bob Martinez, who is
proving himself a strong and energet-
ic defender of the environment. The
plan needlessly raises concerns about
DER Secretary Dale Twachtmann,
whom some environmentalists accuse
of being more interested in expediting
the permitting process than in enforc-
Still, Twachtmann's efforts to make
DER more efficient are justified. Un-
der Twachtmann, DER developed a
solid-waste program adopted by the
state last year. DER officials current-
ly are working on a stormwater clean-
up effort. Twachtmann is an able
leader. But there also are occasions
when Twachtmann's DER appears too
Making distinctions between out-
standing waters has merit. A river
flowing through pastures and suburbs
cannot be protected exactly as one
flowing only through woodlands. But
both can be saved if the state has the
necessary resolve. DER's final revi-
sion for the Outstanding Florida Wa-
ters program can make that resolve
apparent and palpable.