Florida Waters - Questions and Answers
common questions about an Outstanding Florida Water (OFW)
designation are answered here. For more information, please
Klemm in Tallahassee (850/245-8346) or view the our
home page. (Download the OFW
What is an Outstanding Florida Water?
An Outstanding Florida Water (OFW) is a waterbody deemed worthy
of special protection because of its natural attributes (e.g.,
excellent water quality, or exceptional ecological, social,
educational, or recreational value).
Many areas managed by the state or federal government, including
parks, wildlife refuges, preserves, marine sanctuaries, state or
national forests, scenic and wild rivers, or aquatic preserves, are
designated as OFWs. Generally the waters within these managed areas
have OFW designations because the managing agencies have requested
this special protection. However, managed areas are NOT
automatically designated as OFWs. These areas must be formally
designated through rulemaking. In addition, a waterbody demonstrated
to be of exceptional significance may be designated as an OFW
regardless of whether it is within an area managed by the state or
What is the basic intent of an OFW designation?
Waters are designated OFW to prevent the lowering of existing
water quality and to preserve the exceptional ecological and
recreational significance of the waterbody.
How is an OFW protected?
OFWs are protected through more stringent requirements for
activities requiring a permit from the Department of Environmental
Protection (DEP) or a Water Management District (WMD), such as
dredge and fill or wastewater discharge permits. For example, new
discharges of stormwater would require additional treatment prior to
discharging to an OFW, and new direct wastewater discharges to an
OFW are generally not authorized unless they do not lower existing
ambient water quality. The ambient water quality for OFW purposes is
defined as the water quality at the time of OFW designation or the
year before applying for a permit, whichever water quality is
What types of activities are not affected by an OFW designation?
An OFW designation only affects new permitted activities that
have the potential to degrade water quality. Activities that are not
regulated by DEP or a WMD for water quality protection purposes are
Activities not affected by OFW designation include:
- Fishing rules or harvesting limits (these are regulated
Statewide by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
- Boating rules such as speed limits, no wake zones, and
restrictions on non-motorized vessels (these are generally under
the purview of local governments); and
- Ordinances requiring a minimum setback from a waterbody
(also a local government issue).
Are regulatory activities of all state and federal agencies
affected by OFW designation?
No. Only DEP, WMD, or DEP-delegated permitting activities are
affected. These activities include National Pollutant Discharge
Elimination (NPDES) permits for point source dischargers (domestic
and industrial wastewater facilities, and Municipal Separate Storm
Sewer System permittees), Environmental Resource Permits (ERP), such
as for dredging and filling of channels and marinas, and stormwater
permits issued by the Water Management Districts.
What requirements apply to new discharges to an OFW or activities
proposed within an OFW?
Separate requirements must be met for direct and indirect
- New direct point source discharges must not lower existing
ambient water quality;
- New indirect pollutant discharges (discharges to waters that
influence OFWs) must not significantly degrade adjacent
Outstanding Florida Waters; and
- Activities or discharges in an OFW that receive a DEP or WMD
permit must be “clearly in the public interest.”
Does an OFW designation affect existing point source discharges
that currently have a DEP or WMD permit?
No. Existing permitted discharges, including those with a
complete application at the time of designation, are “grandfathered”
and may continue to discharge without any new OFW requirements,
provided the permitted discharge does not increase either its flow
or pollutant loading.
Is an additional or separate application needed to obtain a permit
for an activity in an OFW?
No. An OFW designation affects only the criteria used in
permitting decisions. It is not a new or separate permit process.
Is an OFW designation a different surface water classification and
No. An OFW designation is not a separate surface water
classification or designated use. The surface water classification
(Class I, II, or III for example), and associated designated use of
those classes (Potable Water Supply, Shellfish Harvesting or
Propagation, or Recreation, Fish, and Wildlife for example) do not
change if a waterbody is designated as an OFW.
If a waterbody is already designated as Class II or III, doesn’t
that designation prevent the lowering of water quality without a
waterbody designated as an OFW?
No. For existing water quality classifications, such as Class II
(Shellfish Propagation or Harvesting) and Class III (Recreation,
Fish, and Wildlife), DEP may issue permits that allow increased
loadings of some substances to the water, as long as the water
quality criteria applicable to the specific classification are met
and designated uses are maintained. Some lowering of water quality
may be allowed if, during the permitting process, the applicant
demonstrates that the degradation is necessary or desirable under
federal standards and under circumstances that are clearly in the
public interest (Rule 62-302.300(17), Florida Administrative Code).
The surface water quality criteria are intended to protect
designated uses, but they may not be sufficient to maintain
conditions typical of particularly diverse or ecologically
exceptional water bodies. Water quality in OFW is not allowed to
deviate (beyond natural variability) from the existing background
levels for the year of OFW designation or the year prior to permit
application, whichever is better water quality.
Are there exemptions associated with OFW designation?
Yes. Some activities, such as those for maintenance of existing
facilities, activities to allow or enhance public use, and
construction activities that temporarily lower water quality, are
exempted from OFW requirements if special safeguards are used. In
general, an activity eligible for an exemption from DEP
Environmental Resource Permitting is also exempt from OFW
Are there stricter stormwater controls for OFW designated areas?
Yes. Stormwater discharging to OFWs must undergo additional
treatment. To accommodate this, treatment systems are designed to
achieve a 95% reduction in pollutant loads compared to stormwater
discharged to non-OFW waters, where an 80% reduction is generally
Are there exemptions to the stormwater requirements for
agriculture or silviculture activities?
Yes. Stormwater from agricultural lands is generally exempted
from the OFW stormwater requirements provided they are managed as
part of an approved Conservation Plan implemented according to its
terms (Rule 62-40.432(2), F.A.C.). Exemptions may vary somewhat
among the Water Management Districts.
Silvicultural activities that operate in accordance with the
Silviculture Best Management Practices (BMP) Manual (http://www.fl-dof.com/forest_management/bmp/index.html)
are also exempt from the OFW stormwater requirements. Currently,
Silviculture BMPs require that the width of the Special Management
Zone adjacent to an OFW be increased compared to non-OFW lakes and
streams. Within the Special Management Zone of an OFW, clearcut
harvesting is prohibited within 50 feet of the waterbody, and
mechanical site preparation, road construction, and fertilization is
prohibited within 200 feet of the OFW. In non-OFWs, depending on
slope and soil type, clearcut harvesting is generally prohibited
within 35 feet of the waterbody, and mechanical site preparation,
road construction, and fertilization is prohibited within 70 feet of
Does an OFW designation restrict the repair of existing private
docks or seawalls?
No. The repair or restoration of a private dock or seawall would
not be restricted by an OFW designation.
Would an OFW designation prohibit a property owner from building a
No. Designation reduces the size of a dock that can be built
without a permit from 1,000 square feet to 500 square feet, but the
upper size limit (2000 square feet) for the Noticed General Permit (NGP)
for docks is unaffected by an OFW designation.
Additional information is available on DEP’s private dock
construction web page:
Would an OFW designation prevent the issuance or renewal of
permits for maintenance dredging and spoil disposal?
The activities allowed in current maintenance dredging and spoil
disposal permits would be “grandfathered” under an OFW designation.
However, a substantially different or expanded dredging operation
would be treated like a new operation and would have to meet OFW
requirements or qualify for one of the over 20 exemptions provided
in section 403.813, F.S. Under this statute, a permit is not
required for certain types of projects, such as repair of vehicular
bridges less than 100 feet in length, construction of swales, and
installation of certain types of floating boat slips.
Like a new or expanded permit, new or expanded dredging
operations in OFWs would either have to meet the existing “ambient”
water quality and be “clearly in the public interest” or qualify for
one of the permitting exemptions in section 403.813, F.S.
The DEP has issued many maintenance dredging permits in OFWs.
Generally, the most difficult water quality criterion to meet during
dredge and fill operations in OFWs is turbidity, where the
expectation is that there will be no statistically significant
increase in turbidity from background conditions. While the dredging
operation may be eligible for a temporary turbidity mixing zone,
which would help reduce costs, specific types of dredging practices
(suction dredging for example), which can increase dredging costs,
may be needed to meet background turbidity levels at the edge of the
Would an OFW designation significantly constrain real estate
development in the area?
No. In fact, an OFW designation may actually increase property
values due to the recognized exceptional attributes of the OFW.
However, an OFW designation can impose higher costs for pollution
abatement (e.g., increased stormwater treatment pond capacity) on
new developments, and these costs would be estimated as part of the
review of any petitions for designation.
Would an OFW designation extend DEP’s jurisdiction further into
tributaries and wetlands?
No. OFW designation does not change the jurisdictional status of
How does a waterbody get designated as an OFW?
DEP designates certain waters within State and Federal parks as
OFWs. However, the public may also request that a waterbody be
designated as an OFW. In general, after receiving a petition for an
OFW designation, DEP holds at least one public workshop in the
affected area to both inform and solicit comments from the public on
the proposal. After gathering sufficient information, DEP prepares a
recommendation for consideration by the Florida Environmental
Regulation Commission (ERC). This seven-member citizens’ body then
votes on each proposal at a public hearing that is usually held in
the affected area. The ERC must find that:
- The waters are of exceptional recreational or ecological
- The environmental, social, and economic benefits of the
designation outweigh the environmental, social, and economic
Who can propose an OFW?
Anyone who wishes to propose waters for an Outstanding Florida
Water designation may submit a petition to DEP in accordance with
Chapter 120 of the Florida Statutes.
For more information please contact:
Eric Shaw at
(850) 245-8429 or
at (850) 245-8427.
Water Quality Standards Program
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
2600 Blair Stone Road - M.S. 6511
Tallahassee, FL 32399