Article Index

Water Quality Standards

Wetlands and Water Quality Standards

Florida’s surface water quality standards are authorized under Section 403.061, Florida Statutes, and adopted in chapter 62-302 of the Florida Administrative Code. This chapter includes antidegradation policies, water classifications, specific narrative and numeric standards, and an identification of Outstanding Florida Waters (which receive the highest water quality protection).

Additional water quality standards for Outstanding Florida Waters, including antidegradation standards for all waters are contained in section 62-4.242, F.A.C. Standards for granting mixing zones of water quality standards are contained in section 62-4.244, F.A.C. Chapter 62-4 contains additional provisions for exemptions from water quality standards, and for sampling, testing, and method detection limits for water pollution sources. An antidegradation policy is applied to wetlands, based upon designated use classifications. Special standards have been adopted for discharge of treated stormwater and wastewater into wetlands.

ERP permits also must consider whether a regulated activity will adversely affect the groundwater standards contained in chapters 62-520, 62-522, and 62-550, F.A.C.

Wetland Definition

Wetlands are considered waters of the state.

Designated Uses

All surface waters in Florida fall into one of five classifications based upon their present and future most beneficial use (designated use). The five classifications include:

Class       Designated Use
I         Potable Water Supplies
II       Shellfish Propagation or Harvesting
III        Recreation, Propagation and Maintenance of a Healthy, Well-Balanced
Population of Fish and Wildlife
IV       Agricultural Water Supplies
V       Navigation, Utility and Industrial Use

Narrative and/or Numeric Criteria

Narrative and numeric water quality criteria as listed in Chapter 62-302, F.A.C., are designed to support the aforementioned designated uses. More stringent criteria apply to waters in a “higher” classification (e.g., Class I waters have more stringent criteria than Class III waters). There are a number of biological water quality criteria contained in Chapter 62-302, F.A.C., including bacteriological quality, biological integrity, nuisance species, and nutrients.

Wetlands are considered as “waters of the State,” and are included in the five classes of waters above. Most waterbodies in Florida, including most wetlands, are classified as Class III waters.

Section 373.414(10), F.S., provides the authority for the DEP, in consultation with the water management districts, to establish by rule water quality criteria for wetlands, giving appropriate recognition to the water quality of such wetlands in their natural state. However, to date, no rules governing specifically the water quality in wetlands have been adopted.

Natural background conditions (condition of waters in the absence of man-induced alterations based on the best scientific information available to the DEP), such as those that exist naturally in wetlands, are considered. For example, notwithstanding specific numeric criteria, dissolved oxygen levels, which are naturally low in wetlands, that can be attributed to natural background conditions and man-induced conditions that cannot be controlled or abated may be established as alternative dissolved oxygen criteria for a waterbody or portion of a waterbody.

Antidegradation Policy

Florida’s antidegradation policy is contained in and implement by sections 62-302.300, 62-302.700, and 62-4.242, F.A.C. It generally provides that permit applicants demonstrate that lowering of water quality is necessary or desirable under federal standards and under circumstances that are clearly in the public interest. Paragraph 62-302.300(17), F.A.C., specifically provides that projects permitted under part IV of chapter 373, F.S., shall be considered to be in compliance with the antidegradation policy.


There are several relief mechanisms in place in Florida’s permitting rules and statutes that allow for limited lowering of water quality, including Site Specific Alternative Criteria, mixing zones, variances, and exemptions, provided certain conditions are met. Certain portions of Chapter 62-611, F.A.C., are considered as water quality standards. This chapter allows for the use of some wetlands for treatment of wastewater in very limited cases.

Staffing (Wetland Water Quality Staff)

All states are required by the Federal Clean Water Act to conduct a periodic comprehensive review of their surface water quality standards every three years (“triennial review”). Past triennial reviews have resulted in significant changes to antidegradation policies, water classifications, and water quality criteria.

Florida’s water quality standards program consists of five staff who review and revise, when necessary, existing surface water quality standards. These staff are continually involved in revising the State’s surface water quality standards as needed, including the revision of water quality criteria, reclassifications of surface waters based upon their present and future most beneficial use, and provision of additional water quality protection through designation of certain waterbodies as Outstanding Florida Waters. However, these staff do not review water quality certifications for specific projects.

The review of water quality certifications for specific applications is done by the wetland resource and environmental resource permit permitting staff (see above staffing numbers). The ability for an activity to meet applicable state water quality standards is determined as part of the permit application review, and the water quality certification is issued, waived, or denied in the same document that issues or denies the wetland resource or environmental resource permit.