Gov. Nixon announces Lake of the Ozarks clean-up proposal

Wednesday, December 30, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Following months of controversy surrounding water quality at the Lake of the Ozarks, Gov. Jay Nixon announced a proposal Tuesday that would alter the state's methods of addressing polluted water.

If passed, the measure would require inspections of tens of thousands of non-permitted, residential septic tanks and restrict new wastewater permits at affected bodies of water.

The proposal would also broaden the authority of the Missouri Clean Water Commission and the Department of Natural Resources to protect distressed bodies of water from further pollution.

Nixon indicated that the Lake of the Ozarks would be the first target of new clean water regulations.

"Preserving Missouri's water is of critical importance, and it has long been clear that the Lake of the Ozarks is a resource in need of more stringent protection," Nixon said in a written statement. "Recent sampling results have reinforced what many of us have believed for years: the lake is heavily used but under-protected, and action is needed to change that equation."

Residential septic tanks, which fall under the purview of county governments, would be a focus at the Lake of the Ozarks under the governor's proposal. According to the governor's office, the ultimate goal will be to replace all septic tanks with sewer systems; however, installing sewers at the Lake would be costly. For now, the state will assume responsibility to inspect existing septic tanks in hopes of curbing some pollution.

"The real challenge at the Lake of the Ozarks is that you have thousands of septic systems and many of them have significant problems," said Scott Holste, the governor's spokesman. "By giving Department of Natural Resources authority, it will be major step forward."

In November, the Columbia Missourian reported the failure of septic tanks as a contributing factor to pollution at the Lake.

The governor's office also emphasized that county officials would be given more authority to inspect septic tanks should the governor's proposal be enacted.

This suggestion was met with some skepticism by Tracy Rank, the environmental public health specialist for Benton County, one of the four counties in which the Lake of the Ozarks sits.

"It sounds wonderful and everything to give us authority, and if the state said to do 100 percent inspections of septic tanks, we would do our best," Rank said. "But sometimes, 100 percent just isn't possible."

The counties at the Lake of the Ozarks would be most aided by state government money to help county residents replace failing septic tanks or for the counties to use to construct sewer systems, Rank said.

Tuesday's proposal followed months of efforts by the governor's office to address the issue of pollution at the Lake of the Ozarks.

In September, Nixon announced the Natural Resources Department would inspect wastewater facilities and perform a comprehensive test of pollutants in the Lake's water. The state found that 154 facilities were out of compliance; enforcement actions were taken against 42 of these facilities.

The governor's proposal will be presented as a bill during the coming legislative session.

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