Handbook of Florida Water Regulation: Agricultural Best Management Practices1

Michael T. Olexa, Tatiana Borisova, and Jarrett Davis 2


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decisions on which this handbook is based are subject to constant revision, portions of this publication could become outdated at any time.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, UF/IFAS Extension 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.

Best Management Practices: Overview

Farmers interested in stewardship activities (that protect natural resources and can often benefit production), as well as farmers interested in limiting their exposure to unwanted penalties and liabilities related to the potential impact on water resources, should utilize best management practices (BMPs).

While agencies offer various definitions of BMPs, generally BMPs are management and cultural practices that allow farmers to get the most beneficial use out of their land while preserving regional water resources. These practices are defined by research and field testing to be the most effective and practicable methods. The primary sources of water contamination are suspended solids, nutrients, animal wastes, and pesticides. When these substances are present in excess, algae blooms, fish kills, sedimentation, health hazards, aesthetic changes, and modifications of plant and animal species diversity may result. In addition, with more people moving to the state every year and water demands rising, water conservation is a priority for residential, agricultural, and industrial areas. BMPs can help achieve agricultural water conservation goals, and reduce or prevent pollution loading to surface and ground water.

Examples of BMP, are changes in fertilizer application practices, retrofit of irrigation systems, or having natural and constructed waterways maintained with stream bank vegetative covers to prevent soil erosion and to filter nutrients. BMPs change with emergence of new technologies, and hence, to keep abreast of the most currently available BMPs, inquiries can be directed to your local UF/IFAS Extension Office (see http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/map/index.shtml), Soil and Water Conservation District (see https://afcd.us/florida-swcd-districts/ ), or regional and state agencies (see sections below).

Several regional, state, and federal agencies implement programs assisting farmers with BMP information and implementation. Some programs are mandatory (specifically, in some areas, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' program is mandatory for agricultural producers), while others are voluntary. Agencies can offer cost-share funding to assist farmers in designing and implementing BMPs. For the rates of funding and the criteria for prioritizing BMP projects, check with the local extension offices, SWCD, or agencies' representatives.

Agricultural BMP Programs Implemented by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

To address water quality issues, The Office of Agricultural Water Policy (OAWP) of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) is actively involved in the development of BMP manuals for specific crops, with BMPs addressing both water quality and water conservation. BMPs are defined as "individual or combined practices determined through research, field testing, and expert review to be the most effective and practicable means for improving water quality, taking into account economic and technological considerations" (copied from FDACS "Agriculture and Water Quality"). BMP manuals adopted by FDACS for different agricultural operations and geographical regions are available at the FDACS website at: http://www.floridaagwaterpolicy.com/BestManagementPractices.html.

The BMP program is linked with the state water quality policies. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is leading the development of plans to restore water quality in rivers, lakes, and estuaries referred to as Basin Management Action Plans (BMAP). Simply put these plans are plans of action to reduce pollution loading and meet the total limit on pollution (defined as Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL)). When FDEP adopts BMAPs that includes agriculture practices, producers must either implement FDACS-adopted BMPs or conduct monitoring to show they are not violating water-quality standards. In contrast, implementation of BMPs can give producers the presumption of compliance with state water quality standards.

For more information on BMAPs, see http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/watersheds/bmap.htm.

To enroll in the Florida BMP program, locate and contact your FDACS BMP coordinator to schedule a meeting. The coordinator will provide a free assessment of your operation to determine which BMPs apply to you. Next, the coordinator will supply a BMP checklist and Notice of Intent form to be signed.

An interactive map to locate your FDACS BMP coordinator is available at: http://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Agricultural-Water-Policy/Agricultural-Best-Management-Practices

You can also contact UF/IFAS Extension Office to get more information and assistance (http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/map/index.shtml).

Agricultural BMP Programs Implemented by the Federal Natural Resources Conservation Service

Among the programs authorized by the federal Farm Bill and administered by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)—Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), several provide assistance to producers and landowners with practices improving and protecting water quality and quantity. The practices include activities that conserve natural resources while improving agricultural productivity, as well as wetland restoration practices and temporal or permanent land retirement. These voluntary programs include Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). To find your local NRCS office and learn more about the programs available in your area, see: https://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app.

To find out more about the Farm Bill (also referred to as the Agricultural Act), see the following resources:

The complete text of 2014 Farm Bill can be found at:

H.R.2642 - 113th Congress (2013-2014): Agricultural Act of 2014. https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/2642

Agricultural BMP Programs Implemented by the Florida Water Management Districts

Florida's five Water Management Districts (WMD) also offer funding support for agricultural producers working to improve water use efficiency and protect the quality of surface and ground water. Participation in the programs is voluntary. If funding support for BMPs is provided by the WMDs, the districts may require revising consumptive water use permits (i.e., permits allowing producers to withdraw water for irrigation). To find the district that works in your area, see http://www.dep.state.fl.us/secretary/watman/ .

An example of an available cost-share program is the Facilitating Agricultural Resource Management Systems (FARMS) program in the Southwest Florida Water Management District. The FARMS program is a cost-share reimbursement program to promote surface water and groundwater resource sustainability for projects that promote tailwater recovery and/or surface water use, while reducing groundwater withdrawals. For more information on the FARMS program and how to qualify for funding from this and other WMD programs, please see the following links:


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 acknowledge Carol Fountain and Susan Gildersleeve at the University of Florida for their assistance in editing this handbook. We also acknowledge funding received for updating this publication from the 2016 Wells Fargo Extension Professional Award and Program Enhancement Grant (Principal Investigator is Tatiana Borisova).


1. This document is FE600, one of a series of the Food and Resource Economics Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date October 1998. Revised June 2017. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.
2. Michael T. Olexa, professor, Food and Resource Economics Department, and director, UF/IFAS Center for Agricultural and Natural Resource Law; Tatiana Borisova, associate professor, Food and Resource Economics Department; and Jarrett Davis, student; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

Publication #FE600

Date: 2018-02-27

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