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decisions on which this handbook is based are subject to constant revision, portions of this publication could become outdated at any time.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, and 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.
Florida has several prolific aquifers that supply groundwater to wells, springs, and surface waters. Approximately ninety percent of Floridians rely on aquifers as a source of drinking water. Protection of the quality of groundwater is of critical importance.
Aquifers can be confined (shielded by a layer of lower permeability, such as clay) or unconfined. Unconfined aquifers always require more protection because they are more susceptible to contamination than confined aquifers. For more information about Florida water resources, see FE757 (Florida's Water Resources).
How does Florida regulate groundwater discharge?
Discharge of waste into state waters (including groundwater) is prohibited, unless a permit for discharge is issued by a state agency. A permit will not be issued if the discharge reduces ground or surface water quality below the required Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) standards (see below).
Note that the application of chemicals to control insects and aquatic weeds for agricultural purposes is exempt from the regulation of groundwater discharge. This exemption applies only to the chemicals approved for the particular use by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). Furthermore, the chemical applications must be made according to the label and state standards (all the other requirements of the Florida Pesticide Law [Part One, Chapter 487, Florida Statutes] must also be followed).
What are the state groundwater classifications?
The permits to discharge into groundwater are based on whether the discharge can impact the quality of receiving water, different for specific categories of groundwater. By law, groundwater is classified into five categories (Classes G-I, F-I, G-II, G-III, G-IV) based on whether the water is potable (i.e., high quality and can be used to supply drinking water), the total of dissolved solids the water contains, and finally on whether the water is located in a confined or an unconfined aquifer as defined by Florida Administrative Code 62-520.410(1). Under the classification scheme,
Class G-I water is potable groundwater in a single source aquifer (where single source means that the aquifer is the only reasonably available source of potable water to a significant segment of the population) with a total dissolved solids content of less than 3,000 mg/L (Note: Class G-I water is the most protected and has the strictest criteria that must be met).
Class F-I water is potable groundwater in surficial aquifers (i.e., shallow aquifers that are close to the surface) in northeast Flagler County as described by Florida Administrative Code 62-520.460.
Class G-II water is potable groundwater with a total dissolved solids content up to 10,000 mg/L.
Class G-III water is non-potable groundwater located in unconfined aquifers with a total dissolved solids content of 10,000 mg/L or greater.
Class G-IV water is non-potable groundwater located in confined aquifers with a total dissolved solids content of 10,000 mg/L or greater (Note: Class G-IV waters receive the least amount of protection).
Florida Groundwater Quality Standards
As stated in Florida's laws, Florida's water quality standards "are designed to protect public health or welfare and to enhance the quality of waters of the state. They have been established taking into consideration the use and value of waters of the state for public water supply, agricultural, industrial, and other purposes" (see Chapter 62 of Florida Administrative Code, 62-520.300, Section (2)(a)).
There are primary and secondary groundwater quality standards. Primary groundwater quality standards depend on the class of the groundwater, and they generally include the following:
Minimum criteria. This requires that all groundwater, except G-IV, must not be contaminated by carcinogenic or toxic substance discharges. However, G-IV waters are subject to the minimum criteria if there is a danger to the environment or to public health, safety, or welfare.
Maximum contaminant. This standard represents the maximum amount of particular contaminants that will be tolerated in a particular class of water. For Classes F-I, G-I, and G-II, maximum contaminant levels (primary drinking water standards) are generally in accord with standards developed in the Florida Safe Drinking Water Act. Permits for the discharge of wastes will not be issued under Chapter 403, Florida Statutes, Section 403.088, when maximum contaminant levels in groundwater are exceeded by a discharge activity unless there is a granted exception.
While primary water quality standards relate to health issues, secondary standards regulate the "aesthetics" of water quality and are not always required. Examples of secondary standards include regulations of water taste and color. Secondary standards are monitored in new facilities for compliance, while existing facilities are exempted from monitoring and compliance with the secondary standards unless it is determined that compliance is necessary to protect groundwater or potable water sources.
Regulation of Discharges
Under Chapter 403, Florida Statutes, Section 403.087, discharge permits (also known as operation permits) are required for stationary installations (i.e., structures that may emit water contaminants in quantities prohibited by the rules). For surface water, federal NPDES permits are required for the entities discharging to the water (will be issued only when an applicant can establish that the activity or installation in question will not degrade receiving waters below applicable standards).
Note that agricultural water management systems are not required to obtain discharge permits. Essentially, as long as the water in an agricultural management system remains within that particular system (e.g., an irrigation operation), no permit is required. Once the water leaves that particular system, that discharge is then regulated, and the farming activity maybe liable for groundwater pollution. The farmers need to implement FDEP verified Best Management Practices to be released from the liability. The BMP implementation (supported by recordkeeping) provides a presumption of compliance with state water quality standards, such that FDEP cannot institute proceedings against the owner of the source of pollution to recover costs or damages associated with the contamination of ground or surface water caused by the pollutant (see Florida Administrative Code 5M-8.003, Presumption of Compliance).
What Florida programs address groundwater quality?
Statewide groundwater quality is addressed in two programs implemented by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection: the Ground Water Management Program and the Aquifer Protection Program.
The Groundwater Management Program derives from Florida's Watershed Restoration Program (see FE608), in recognition of the close link between the quality of ground water and surface water (such as lakes, rivers, or canals). The groundwater management program centers on evaluating and managing groundwater resources that adversely affect surface water quality. The Program determines the impairments and assists with identifying actions to restore the quality. A majority of the Program's work focuses on springs, including monitoring of water quality in springs, assessing the major sources of nitrogen pollution loading impacting springs, establishing the pollution loading limits (referred to as Total Maximum Daily Load, TMDL), and evaluating agricultural best management practices to reduce nitrogen loading (in Santa Fe River Basin in north-central Florida specifically). Other responsibilities include assisting with the development of Florida's Integrated Water Quality Assessment Report, and evaluating the potential impact of new pesticides on groundwater.
According to FDEP, the Aquifer Protection Program is responsible for implementation and support of regulatory programs affecting groundwater and wells. Regulatory programs within the Aquifer Protection Program include:
Underground Injection Control Program
Well Construction and Permitting
Source Water and Wellhead Protection Programs
Ground Water Classes, Standards and Monitoring
Authority to assist with the implementation and support of these programs is provided by Florida Administrative Code Chapter:
Chapter 62-520 Ground Water Classes, Standards and Exemptions
Chapter 62-521 Wellhead Protection
Chapter 62-524 New Potable Water Well Permitting in Delineated Areas
Chapter 62-528 Underground Injection Control
Chapter 62-531 Water Well Contractors
Chapter 62-532 Water Well Permitting and Construction Requirements
For more information on the Groundwater Management Program and the Aquifer Protection Program, see FDEP's website: http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/groundwater/index.htm
Chapter 487, Florida Statutes, Sections 487.011 to 487.175
Chapter 403, Florida Statutes, Section 403.087
Chapter 373, Florida Statutes, Sections 373.019 to 373.0698
Florida Administrative Code 62-520.410
Florida Administrative Code 62-670
Florida Administrative Code 5M-8.003
Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). 2017. Groundwater Program. Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 2600 Blair Stone Road M.S. 3500, Tallahassee, Florida 32399. http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/groundwater/index.htm (last updated on November 07, 2016; last accessed on June 1, 2017).
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).