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What are Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs)?

A Total Maximum Daily Load or TMDL is a calculated value that represents the amount of a particular pollutant that a stream, lake, estuary or other waterbody can 'handle' without exceeding State water quality standards. The U.S. EPA requires the State of Florida to conduct water quality assessments every five years under the Federal Clean Water Act to assign TMDLs to water bodies that are polluted. A TMDL is the pollution reduction goal for waters found to be in violation of State water quality standards.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is the State agency responsible for preserving and maintaining the quality of Florida's waters. This is a challenging task due to the damage caused by past practices and increasing demands placed on our water resources by rapid growth. Over fertilization, over-watering, improper yard-waste disposal, irresponsible development, automobile exhaust and failing septic tanks are among the leading sources of pollution in our waters. FDEP has determined that nearly all of the waters in Lee County are impaired. 

After the State assigns TMDLs to water bodies in a particular region regulatory action is taken on local governments to improve water quality under their wastewater treatment plant permits, NPDES or Municipal Separate Storm Sewer (MS4) permits as well as private permit holders such as industry and community development districts (CDDs) by reducing the amount of pollutant discharge from each facility or managed non-point source area. The final step is coordination of local governments and non-governmental stakeholders to write a pollution reduction plan for each water body called a Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP). A BMAP is legally enforceable and pollution reduction benchmarks require the State, Federal, local governments and private companies to invest money and effort in reducing their pollution loads. 

If FDEP's policy is not compliant with the EPA Clean Water Act, EPA may set policy for FDEP or directly oversee the policy development. The most recent example of EPA oversight is the development of numeric nutrient criteria for water quality in Florida. FDEP is also in the process of updating the State's Designated Uses as periodically required by the Clean Water Act. Visit FDEP's Water Quality Standards & Special Projects site to see the latest developments in water quality rulemaking in Florida. Topical information is listed in the right hand column.

Over the next several months Lee County will be working with FDEP and other government and non-government agencies to develop a water quality restoration plan called a Basin Management Action Plan. To learn more about BMAPs, the Clean Water Act, and Florida's water quality program visit our Water Quality Status page.   

See our Lee County Water Quality Status website for more information about Lee County specifically or contact Karen Bickford at or 239-533-8706 for more questions.