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Florida's Numeric Nutrient Criteria and the Potential Importance of Dissolved Organic Nitrogen

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The EPA has proposed strict numerical nutrient criteria for Florida which will likely impact a number of municipalities across the state. The proposed numerical criteria include total nitrogen and total phosphorus values for streams and lakes in four zones across Florida, and a nitrate/nitrite nutrient criterion for all springs in the state. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) estimates that approximately 34% of Florida's most pristine surface waters will fail the EPA's proposed in-stream nitrogen criteria. These significant regulatory changes will likely require significant treatment plant upgrades to meet the new criteria or to find alternative reuse applications or disposal methods. BNR treatment plants have traditionally focused on the removal of inorganic nitrogen species (NH3, NO2, NO3) to meet their effluent TN standards. However, as TN limits for many Florida plants become more stringent (<2.0 mg/l), the importance of dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) will become more significant, and in many cases will become the dominant effluent nitrogen species. Four existing Florida plants are evaluated to demonstrate the importance of DON in meeting the proposed criteria. The evaluation shows that some plants will likely be unable to meet the new criteria, even if all inorganic forms of nitrogen are completely removed, even when tertiary wetlands treatment is utilized. The evaluation includes a discussion on the need to develop more accurate and reliable methods to measure and characterize effluent nutrients, and determine their true impact on receiving waters so that regulators and municipalities can make informed and correct decisions regarding how to address these new criteria.
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Keywords: Bioavailability; Biodegradability; Dissolved Organic Nitrogen; Numerical Nutrient Criteria; Nutrient Removal; Sustainability; Water Quality

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2011-01-01

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