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Publication #FE602

Handbook of Florida Water Regulation: Groundwater Discharge Regulations at the Federal Level1

Michael T. Olexa, Tatiana Borisova, and Sean Crisafulli2


This handbook is designed to provide an accurate, current, and authoritative summary of the principal federal and state (Florida) laws that directly or indirectly relate to agriculture. This handbook provides a basic overview of the many rights and responsibilities that farmers and farmland owners have under both federal and state laws as well as the appropriate contact information to obtain more detailed information. However, the reader should be aware that because the laws, administrative rulings, and court decisions on which this handbook is based are subject to constant revision, portions of this publication could become outdated at any time. Several details of cited laws are also left out due to space limitations.

This handbook is distributed with the understanding that the authors are not engaged in rendering legal or other professional advice, and the information contained herein should not be regarded as a substitute for professional advice. This handbook is not all inclusive in providing information to achieve compliance with the federal and state laws and regulations governing water protection. For these reasons, the use of these materials by any person constitutes an agreement to hold harmless the authors, the UF/IFAS Center for Agricultural and Natural Resource Law, the Florida Cooperative Extension Service, the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and the University of Florida for any liability claims, damages, or expenses that may be incurred by any person as a result of reference to or reliance on the information contained in this handbook.

Federal Groundwater Discharge Regulations

How does the federal government regulate groundwater discharge?

Federal regulation of groundwater consists of a variety of statutory directives administered by administrative agencies that affect or have the potential to affect groundwater.

What is CWA?

The most important federal legislation affecting groundwater is the Clean Water Act (CWA). The chief purpose of CWA is the elimination of point source pollution to surface water. Groundwater is directly implicated due to the natural linkage of groundwater and surface water resources. When a party pollutes the surface water, the hydrologic water cycle makes it more likely than not that groundwater is simultaneously being contaminated.

What is NPDES?

The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) places flow limitations on point sources (a recognizable origin of pollution such as a pipe, well, or leaking container) of water pollution. Florida has adopted its own version of the NPDES program. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is the sole state agency rsponsible for issuing NPDES permits.

What is SDWA?

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) establishes primary and secondary drinking water quality standards for larger types of public water systems that serve at least 15 service connections or serve 25 or more people 60 days or more out of the year. SDWA also contains provisions for the notification of the public when water quality maximum contaminant levels are exceeded by public water systems, and further mandates enforcement action when drinking water is not treated properly, exceeds water quality standards, or imposes any undue risk to the public's health.


Federal Water Pollution Control Act (“Clean Water Act”), 33 USCA, Section 1251 to 1387

Safe Drinking Water Act, 42 USCA, Section 300f


The authors are indebted to the personnel of both state and federal agencies who provided their time and advice in the preparation of this handbook. We wish to acknowledge Carol Fountain and Travis Prescott at the University of Florida for their assistance in editing this handbook.



This is EDIS document FE602, a publication of the Food and Resource Economics Department, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL. Published December 2005, revised June 2011 and April 2015. UF/IFAS Extension Please visit the EDIS website at


Michael T. Olexa, professor, Food and Resource Economics Department, and director, UF/IFAS Center for Agricultural and Natural Resource Law, University of Florida, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL, and member of The Florida Bar. Tatiana Borisova, assistant professor, Food and Resource Economics Department, University of Florida, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL. Sean Crisafulli, student, Levin College of Law, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.