TMDL Challenge: Lake Okeechobee Tributaries

Case Overview

Apart from its ecological significance as the second largest lake in the United States, Lake Okeechobee is also the largest surface water drinking source in Florida and the headwaters to the Everglades. Today, as a consequence of constantly accumulating phosphorus and nitrogen pollution, Lake Okeechobee periodically develops extensive toxic algae blooms. This case follows a successful Florida law challenge to a nutrient limit proposed for the nine northern tributaries to Lake Okeechobee. In that case, the state agency proposed a nutrient limit for the tributaries far too high to maintain the federal and state standards for water quality. The evidence in that case indicated a much lower limit would be appropriate. In response to this decision, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed such a limit. Major agricultural polluters then put pressure on EPA to sharply increase the phosphorus limit, and the state developed an elaborate formula which produced a nutrient limit for the tributaries at a level 70 percent higher than the level initially proposed by EPA. In mid-summer 2008, EPA finalized its rule and adopted the higher concentration limit for phosphorus. An unreasonably high phosphorus limit for the main tributaries to the lake will serve as a vehicle to legalize the pollution rather than bring it under control.

Earthjustice is suing on behalf of conservationists to compel the EPA to set more protective pollution limits.

Case Updates

May 25, 2012 Press Release

Nasty Green Slime Covers North-Central Florida’s Santa Fe River Due to Pollution

Health authorities urge people to keep out of the water—just in time for Memorial Day weekend