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Judge Rules EPA and Florida Must Set Limits on Fertilizer and Waste Pollution

Florida has been plagued for years by nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen poisoning waterways whenever it rains. The nutrients run off from agricultural operations, septic systems, and fertilized landscapes, triggering slimy algae outbreaks that foul Florida's beaches, lakes, rivers and springs. But now the green slime might finally loosen its hold. Following a historic settlement, the EPA has for the very first time set legal limits for nutrient pollution in public waters.

The change in policy comes more than a year after Earthjustice filed a major lawsuit on behalf of several local and conservation organizations. "The standards aren't as stringent as we need, but they are a major improvement," said David Guest, attorney for Earthjustice. "The most cost-effective way to handle this problem is to deal with it at its source."

While nitrogen-based fertilizer costs well under $5 per pound to spread on land, it costs $235 per pound to remove it once it gets into lakes and streams. And the economic damage caused by toxic algae outbreaks can reach hundreds of millions of dollars. A 2008 DEP report concluded that fully half of the state's rivers and more than half of its lakes had poor water quality -- a dangerous reality for a state with an economy based on tourism and water-based recreation.

Earthjustice filed suit on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John's Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club.