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Urban Stormwater Program



Florida has implemented a multi-faceted approach to address the issue of NPS pollutants contributed by erosion and sedimentation from construction sites and by the stormwater leaving these developments once construction is completed. Florida has experienced incredible growth since the early 1970s and the state’s population is projected to increase to over 20,000,000 by the year 2020. Therefore, continued implementation of urban NPS program is essential to minimize the adverse environmental effects associated with the growth and associated changes in land use. Florida’s approach includes land use planning and regulation, public education, stormwater/environmental resource permits, technical and financial assistance, and compliance monitoring. However, it should be noted that the primary mechanism to minimize NPS impacts from these activities is through the state’s growth management program and regulation under Florida’s stormwater/environmental permitting program. The current urban stormwater NPS management program involves a partnership between the DEP, the State’s five water management districts (WMDs), the Department of Community Affairs (DCA), local governments, and the private sector.

Florida Urban Stormwater NPS Management Program-The Beginnings

The foundation for Florida’s urban stormwater program was the work done in the mid-1970s as part of the state’s Section 208 Areawide Water Quality Management Planning efforts. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, numerous investigations were undertaken in Florida to assess the effects of stormwater on water bodies, to characterize stormwater pollutant loadings from different land uses, and to evaluate the performance and cost-effectiveness of various BMPs. These studies demonstrated that stormwater was the primary source of pollutant loading to state surface waters. With the state’s rapid growth, it was concluded that the state’s ability to meet the Clean Water Act (CWA) objective of fishable and swimmable waters required implementation of strong stormwater programs.

Using Federal grant funds, Florida drafted regulations to control stormwater in the late 1970s. The first State regulation was implemented by the DER in 1979 as Chapter 17-4.248, F.A.C. Under this rule, the Department based its decision to require a permit upon a determination of the "insignificance" or "significance" of a stormwater discharge. This determination seems reasonable in concept; however, in practice, such a decision is as variable as the personalities involved. What may appear insignificant to the owner of a shopping center may actually be a significant pollutant load into an already overloaded stream.

The DEP intended that the rule would be revised when more detailed information on urban stormwater management became available. About one year after adoption, the DEP began reviewing the results of on going stormwater research and established a stormwater task force with membership from all segments of the regulated and environmental communities. Over a two-year period, a revised stormwater rule, Chapter 17-25, F.A.C., was developed and adopted by the state's Environmental Regulation Commission. It became effective in February 1982. This rule required a stormwater permit for all new stormwater discharges and for modifications to existing discharges if flows or pollutant loading increased.

The new rule was implemented within the framework of the federal CWA. This law establishes two types of regulatory requirements to control pollutant discharges: technology-based effluent limitations (TBELs), that reflect the best controls available considering the technical and economic achievability of those controls, and water quality-based effluent limitations (WQBELs), that reflect the water quality standards and allowable pollutant loadings as set forth in a permit. Florida's tremendous growth and the accompanying creation of tens of thousands of new stormwater discharges, together with a lack of data on specific cause and effect relationships about stormwater impacts to receiving waters, made the WQBEL approach unimplementable.

Instead, the stormwater rule was established as a technology-based program that relies upon the implementation of BMPs that are designed to achieve a specific level of treatment (performance standard). The performance standards are set forth in Chapter 62- 40, F.A.C., the Water Resource Implementation Rule. The performance standard for erosion and sediment control during construction is to retain sediment on-site, with a backstop that no discharge shall violate the state’s water quality standard for turbidity. Based on performance and cost-effectiveness investigations of urban stormwater BMPs, the performance standard for the stormwater treatment was established as 80% reduction of the average annual loading of total suspended solids for most discharges, or 95% for direct discharges to Outstanding Florida Waters. In addition, the water management districts and local governments have established performance standards to minimize flooding by limiting the post-development stormwater peak discharge rate and, in some cases such as closed basins, the stormwater volume.

This technology-based program was implemented in accordance with EPA guidance on the development of stormwater regulatory programs and the role of water quality criteria. The guidance recognized that BMPs are the primary mechanism for treating stormwater to achieve water quality standards. The guidance also recommends that state programs should include the following:

  • Design of BMPs based on site-specific conditions, technical, institutional and economic feasibility, and the water quality standards of the receiving waters.
  • Monitoring to ensure that practices are correctly designed and applied.
  • Monitoring to determine the effectiveness of BMPs in meeting water quality standards and the appropriateness of water quality criteria in reasonably assuring protection of beneficial uses.
  • Adjustment of BMPs when water quality standards are not being protected to a designed level, or evaluation and possible adjustment of water quality standards.

Proper installation and operation of state approved BMPs should help receiving waters continue to achieve water quality standards. While water quality standards are to be used to measure the ultimate effectiveness of stormwater management programs and BMPs, the EPA recognizes that there should be flexibility in water quality standards to address the variability and intermittent nature of stormwater discharges. If water quality standards are not met, the design criteria for the BMPs should be modified. In some cases, the water quality standards should be reassessed. This latter situation is especially relevant since existing water quality standards were developed for traditional point sources that discharge continually, while stormwater discharges are intermittent and represent relatively short-term, shock loadings to a receiving water. Since most stormwater pollutants become associated with bottom sediments, sediment and biological community standards are more appropriate than traditional water chemistry standards in assessing environmental effects of stormwater discharges.

It is important to note that the use of nonstructural and structural BMPs are not 100% effective in controlling NPS pollution from urban development. Changes in land use and the activities of humans always increase the loading of nonpoint sources of pollution from a watershed. Additionally, the effectiveness of NPS controls depends on a number of factors including, but not limited to, skill in the design and implementation of the BMPs, proper maintenance, staff limitations for review and enforcement, public education, and funding. This is why the technical assistance, practitioner training programs, and public education components of the state’s urban NPS management program are so essential.

Under the Florida Water Resources Act of 1972, the DEP serves as the umbrella-administering agency for the stormwater management program. It delegated authority to the WMDs whose primary functions historically were related to management of water quantity. Therefore, a second objective in developing the Stormwater Rule was to coordinate the water quality considerations of the DEP’s stormwater permits with the water quantity aspects of the WMDs' surface water management permits.

Delegation of the stormwater permitting program allowed for minor adjustments to the design criteria to better reflect regional conditions. Florida is a diverse state with major differences in soils, geology, topography, rainfall, etc., which can directly affect the usability and treatment effectiveness of a BMP. Such variation could be addressed by adoption by the WMDs of slightly different design criteria that were approved by the DEP prior to implementation.

Both the DEP’s and WMDs’ stormwater rules require a new development to implement an approved erosion and sediment control plan during construction and a comprehensive stormwater management plan/system. The stormwater system should be viewed as a "BMP treatment train" in which a number of different BMPs are integrated into a comprehensive system that provides aesthetic and recreational amenities in addition to traditional stormwater management objectives.

Florida Urban Stormwater NPS Management Program-The Present

An effective stormwater management program requires a watershed management team approach involving state, regional and local governments that complement, but do not duplicate each other’s efforts. To clarify the institutional roles of each member of the watershed management team, Chapters 373 and 403, FS, were revised as part of a 1989 stormwater legislation. This law defined multiple goals and objectives for the stormwater program, and set forth the program's institutional framework, which involves a partnership among the FDEP, the WMDs and local governments. It defined the responsibilities of each entity and addresses the need for the treatment of agricultural runoff by adding a policy in the Agriculture Element of the State Comprehensive Plan to "eliminate the discharge of inadequately treated agricultural wastewater and stormwater." It further promoted the watershed approach being used by the SWIM Program and attempted to integrate stormwater, SWIM, and local comprehensive planning programs. The Water Resource Implementation Rule (formerly State Water Policy), an existing but little used FDEP rule, was established as the primary implementation guidance document for stormwater and all water resources management programs. The law also created the State Stormwater Demonstration Grant Program as an incentive to local governments to implement stormwater utilities and provided a one time appropriation of $2 million for the program.

The state's stormwater management program is outlined in three sections of Chapter 403, F.S.:

  • Section 403.0891, "State, regional, and local stormwater management plans and programs," establishes the institutional roles of the FDEP, WMDs, and local governments in implementing the stormwater program. This section also requires the Florida Department of Transportation to inventory and map primary stormwater management systems that it builds, operates, or maintains. The FDEP, in coordination and cooperation with the WMDs and local governments, is to conduct a continuing review of the costs of stormwater management systems and the effects on water quality and quantity, and fish and wildlife values.
  •  Section 403.0893 - "Stormwater funding, dedicated funds for stormwater management," authorizes local governments to create stormwater utilities and stormwater management system benefit areas.
  • Section 403.0896 - "Training and assistance for stormwater management system personnel," requires the development of training and assistance programs for persons responsible for designing, building, inspecting, or operating and maintaining stormwater management systems.

In December 1990, the Environmental Regulation Commission adopted a reorganized Chapter 62-40, Florida Administrative Code, to be used as guidance by all entities which implement water resource management programs and regulations. Section 62-40.432, FAC, includes the goals, policies and institutional framework for the state's stormwater management program.

  • Section 62-40.432(1), F.A.C., "Surface Water Protection and Management," establishes the goals for the state's stormwater management program. These include:
  • Effective stormwater management for existing and new systems to protect, preserve and restore the functions of natural systems and the beneficial uses of waters;
  • Preventing stormwater problems from new land use changes and restoring degraded water bodies by reducing the pollution contributions from older stormwater systems;
  • Preserving freshwater resources by encouraging stormwater infiltration and reuse;
  • Trying to assure that the stormwater peak discharge rate, volume and pollutant loading are no greater after a site is developed than before; and
  • Eliminating the discharge of inadequately managed stormwater into waters and to minimize other adverse impacts on natural systems, property and the health, safety and welfare caused by improperly managed stormwater.
  • Section 62-40.431(3), FAC, "Stormwater Management Program Implementation," sets out the institutional roles of the FDEP, the WMDs, and local governments.
  • DEP is the lead agency responsible for coordinating the statewide program and for implementing parts of the program.
  • WMDs are the chief administrators of the stormwater program responsible for setting regional goals and policies, permitting most activities, establishing stormwater pollutant load reduction goals, and preparation of watershed management plans.
  • Local governments are responsible for adopting a comprehensive land use plan that is consistent with State and regional goals, and for implementing a stormwater program that includes the development and implementation of a stormwater master plan and provisions to assure that stormwater systems are properly operated and maintained.
  • Section 62-40.432(4), F.A.C., "Surface Water Management," establishes how the FDEP and WMDs will determine whether a stormwater management system is harmful to water resources or is inconsistent with the objectives of the agencies.
  • Section 62-40.432(5), F.A.C., "Minimum Stormwater Performance Standards", establishes the following minimum treatment performance standards:
  • Retaining sediment on-site during construction with no violation of turbidity standards for discharges during construction;
  • Eighty percent average annual load reduction of TSS for new stormwater discharges to Class 3 waters (most water bodies);
  • Ninety-five percent average annual load reduction of TSS for new stormwater discharges to Outstanding Florida Waters;
  • Reducing, on a watershed basis, the pollutant loading from older stormwater systems, as needed to protect, maintain or restore the beneficial uses of the receiving water body. The amount of needed pollutant load reduction is known as a "Pollutant Load Reduction Goal, or PLRG."

In addition to being the first state in the country to establish a statewide program requiring the treatment of stormwater from new developments, Florida is also unique in having a performance standard for older stormwater systems that were built before the implementation of the Stormwater Rule in 1982. As seen above, Section 62-40.432 (5)(c), F.A.C., states that "the pollutant loading from older stormwater management systems shall be reduced as needed to restore or maintain the beneficial uses of waters." Furthermore, this rule requires the WMDs to establish stormwater pollutant load reduction goals (PLRGs) and adopt them as part of a SWIM plan, other watershed plan, or rule. Stormwater PLRGs are a major component of the Load Allocation part of a TMDL. To date, stormwater PLRGs have been established for Tampa Bay, Lake Thonotosassa, Winter Haven Chain of Lakes, the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, and Lake Apopka.

In 1993, the Florida Legislature, as part of the Environmental Reorganization Act of 1993, modified parts of Chapters 373 and 403, F.S., combining wetland resource permitting and stormwater management permitting into an "Environmental Resource Permit" regulation. DEP and the WMDs, depending upon the type of activity that is permitted, share implementation of this program. Accordingly, most development projects now receive an Environmental Resource Permit that minimizes the wetland impacts, the stormwater quantity impacts, and the stormwater quality impacts of the project. Before a project can be permitted, however, it must be reviewed and approved by the local government which makes sure that the project is consistent with its comprehensive plan and the implementing land development regulations. It is at this time that the nonstructural, land use planning BMPs are incorporated into the project.


Nonpoint Source Management Program
Division of Water Restoration Assistance
3900 Commonwealth Blvd MS 3570
Douglas Building
Tallahassee, FL 32399-3000


Last updated: August 06, 2015

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