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Hinkson proposal would require city, county to reduce storm runoff by half

Wednesday, April 21, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 12:07 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 21, 2010
John Belaka of Columbia looks for trash while walking in the Hinkson Creek near Walnut Street on Oct. 7, 2006. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources says there is a lack of aquatic life, indicating pollution. It wants Columbia and Boone County to clean up the waterway by reducing the amount of stormwater that drains into the creek by just over 50 percent.

**CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to clarify a measure of pollution in Hinkson Creek. The Department of Natural Resources measures the numbers of certain fish, small invertebrates and aquatic insects to determine the level of pollution in waterways. Hinkson Creek has been shown to have low numbers of certain fish, invertebrates and insects.

COLUMBIA —Mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies should be abundant in healthy Missouri creeks and streams.* But that's not the case in Hinkson Creek.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources says the low levels of some aquatic life* means the waterway is polluted but can't say for sure which pollutants are responsible. It wants Columbia and Boone County to clean up the waterway. Rather than target specific toxins, the department wants them to reduce the amount of stormwater that drains into the creek by just over 50 percent.

Contact the Department of Natural Resources

The Department of Natural Resources is accepting public comment on the Hinkson Creek Total Maximum Daily Load proposal through Thursday.

Concerns or statements of support can be e-mailed to John Hoke, the total maximum daily load unit chief for the department, at john.hoke@dnr.mo.gov. E-mails should provide the sender's contact information, including name, address and phone number.

Comments can also be mailed to the Department of Natural Resources, Water Protection Program, Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Section, P.O. Box 176, Jefferson City, MO 65102.


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The city and county say that would require a herculean effort they can't afford.

"The stormwater utility is broke," said John Glascock, director of Columbia's Public Works department, referring to the city fund that would finance any changes. "We don't have the money to put toward this. We're going to have to reinvent the wheel."

The segment of Hinkson Creek that passes through Columbia has been on the Missouri Department of Natural Resources 303(d) impaired stream list since 1998. The designation means pollution is too high for swimming, drinking and maintaining aquatic life.

On Tuesday, representatives with the Department of Natural Resources presented Columbia and Boone County officials with a revised draft proposal to address pollution. The draft regulation, called a total maximum daily load limit, would require the city and county to reduce stormwater runoff by 50.5 percent. The Environmental Protection Agency requires state agencies to impose the regulation for endangered waterways.

An earlier proposal floated by the Department of Natural Resources in September would have required a two-thirds reduction in stormwater runoff. Officials then strongly opposed the plan on the grounds that it was based on incomplete data and would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to meet. The department revised the plan but met the same objections Tuesday.

"It's a very aggressive proposal for a marginally failing stream," said Don Stamper, executive director of the Central Missouri Development Council. "I think we're talking about taking a hatchet to something that could be solved with a butter knife."

Water quality studies conducted between 2002 and 2006 found a number of pollutants in Hinkson Creek, but none in high enough quantities to target for regulation. Some of the pollutants found in the waterway include:

  • petroleum from cars and road runoff
  • insecticides and herbicides from lawns and gardens
  • caffeine from discarded beverages
  • metals from worn tires and brake linings
  • E. coli bacteria from sewer leaks and overflows
  • chloride from road de-icing materials

Most of Columbia sits on the Hinkson Creek watershed, and that makes the proposed wastewater reduction a potentially expensive fix. Planning officials can require developers to mitigate runoff by installing ponds and filtration systems on new developments, but most of the watershed is covered by existing roads, homes and businesses.

Boone County Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller said meeting the requirement would mean retrofitting existing developments. "This has the potential of having a huge, huge impact on this community financially," she said. "Taxpayers can only support so much."

Miller said she was frustrated by the data used to justify the wastewater limit because the measurements were inconsistent and outdated. "We'd like to have a new baseline," she said. "Maybe we are in compliance now."

The most recent data cited in the draft proposal is from 2006 but there is current research being done in Hinkson Creek.

Jason Hubbart, natural resources professor and researcher at MU, said he currently has five gauging sites set up along the creek. His work began in 2008 and was initially funded by the state Department of Natural Resources. Hubbart thinks the department's proposal is based on incomplete science because it doesn't target specific pollutants.

"We're collecting the data so that we can actually do those things," Hubbart said in a phone interview. "It takes about four years to be able to say with confidence what those measurements are."

Hubbart said he thinks the Department of Natural Resources is under pressure from the EPA to complete the total maximum daily load study. "My data's not going to be ready until after the fact," he said.

Hubbart said it's difficult to compare the pollution in Hinkson Creek to other urban waterways because each is unique. "(But) Hinkson probably falls in the middle," he said. "I don't think it's terribly polluted. I don't think it's terribly unpolluted."

John Hoke is the total maximum daily load unit chief for the department and did most of the talking at Tuesday's meeting. Hoke said he thought the stream had been adequately studied. "Hinkson Creek is one of the most intensely studied streams in the state," Hoke said. "We really threw everything we had at it."

Ken Midkiff, conservation chairman for the Osage Group of the Sierra Club, said the main measurement of pollution in the creek is the lack of fish and aquatic insect life such as mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies.

"Hinkson Creek does not support the aquatic life that it should," Midkiff said. He explained that the aquatic insects and small invertebrates used to measure the health of the waterway are at the bottom of the food chain and support other aquatic life.*

"If they're not there, there's nothing for fish to eat," Midkiff said. "If I were to guess, it's probably not one pollutant causing problems. It could be a whole range of pollutants."

Midkiff said he wasn't convinced that pollutants were responsible for the lack of aquatic life. "It could be nothing more than warm water running off into an otherwise cool creek," he said. "Fish and aquatic life don't do very well in warmer water."

At one point, Stamper pointed to his and Midkiff's shared frustration as a sign that the Department of Natural Resources needed to improve its case. "This is so big and misunderstood that you haven't given Midkiff and I anything to argue about," the director of the Central Missouri Development Council said. "I think you've got a lot of people out here with the deer in the headlights look."

The Department of Natural Resources website lists 295 total maximum daily load projects either in place or under development.

The Department of Natural Resources will use input from Tuesday's meeting to revise the draft proposal, which it will eventually submit to the EPA. The department is seeking public comment on the plan through e-mail or mail until Thursday. Once the document is approved, the Department of Natural Resources will work with city and county officials to implement the plan in phases.

But if Tuesday's meeting is any indication, the Columbia and Boone County officials aren't ready to concede to that reality.

"This is just the draft document," Columbia Public Works director Glascock said. "Until it's a definite, we're not going to figure out how to implement it."


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Comments

hank ottinger April 21, 2010 | 8:36 a.m.

What's missing in the analysis of this seemingly intractable issue is that what's really tearing up the aquatic life in the Hink isn't so much a specific pollutant as it is sediment. Sure, sediment is common in all creeks, especially here in the midwest, but recent rain events (predicted by climatologists to become more frequent) have created serious flash flood conditions that erode the river's banks rapidly, depositing (possibly) unprecedented amounts of sediment on those areas where aquatic life flourishes.

On another note, I find Mr. Glascock's comment unsettling: "Until it's [the TMDL plan] a definite, we're not going to figure out how to implement it." Perhaps he was quoted out of context, but it strikes me a that a wise engineer and public servant would do everything in his power to anticipate any and all eventualities, rather than sit on his hands.

(Report Comment)
Eric Niewoehner April 21, 2010 | 10:22 a.m.

Study Missouri's early history and it may solve the riddle regarding Hinkson Creek. Missouri's first boom economy was based on beavers. They were everywhere! So what would make Hinkson and other creeks attractive to beavers? Trees. To get trees, you need buffer zones. Buffer zones would also retard run off. It would also address a small portion of the storm water runoff. Over time (100-200 years), tree growth along the buffer zone would eventually result in trees falling into the stream, retarding drainage, further improving the habitat.

Rather than mandating buffer zones, it would be advisable to give landowners and developers incentives for creating buffers. Build buffer zones into planning provisions for future developments.

I tend to agree with Karen Miller. The reality of urban life is storm water drainage, often at phenomenal scale because of midwestern weather. It is conceivable to mitigate a portion of the volume through holding "lakes" (a pond almost seems laughable), setting aside acres of land for wetlands. As we can recall with the KATY Trail fight, THAT would be a tough assignment.

(Report Comment)

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