Missouri Senate rejects local plumbing code requirement

Wednesday, May 12, 2010 | 5:01 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri senators rejected an effort Wednesday to require many counties to develop plumbing codes, discarding a proposal developed after revelations of high levels of E. coli bacteria in the Lake of the Ozarks.

The plumbing provision would have required codes be implemented within three years in all counties with waterways that run through state or national parks. Officials from Camden, Miller and Morgan counties — which surround the Lake of the Ozarks — have said they do not have countywide plumbing codes.

Some lawmakers contended the plumbing codes were needed to improve Missouri's water quality. Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a former attorney for the Department of Natural Resources, said more people are living in bigger houses along the state's waterways and that their sewage is affecting others.

Without plumbing codes, "we're going to keep getting old cars, 5 gallon drums and straight-piping into the creek," said Schaefer, R-Columbia.

But local government groups opposed efforts to require plumbing codes. Sen. John Griesheimer said he feared the legislation could open the door to a statewide plumbing code and suggested county rules on septic systems could be enough.

"You're using a sledgehammer where a hammer is needed," said Griesheimer, R-Washington.

The Senate stripped the plumbing code provision from a broader environmental bill. That bill was then set aside Wednesday without a vote. Lawmakers have until Friday to pass legislation.

The environmental bill includes several provisions aimed at the Department of Natural Resources because of its handling of E. coli test results. The bacteria can cause influenza-like illnesses and even death in people infected through open cuts or ingestion.

The department waited until June 26 to report the result of a May 26 water sample that showed high E. coli levels at the popular central Missouri tourism lake. Those tests were part of a multiyear environmental study. It later was disclosed that the department had not properly closed a state park beach at the Lake of the Ozarks in May despite results from a separate testing program that showed high bacteria.

This year, the department plans to post test results on an Internet-based map showing the results and which beaches are open or closed. A spokesman said the agency has changed procedures so more people know about high bacteria tests at beaches.

The Senate legislation would transfer water-quality tests to the Department of Health and Senior Services and require results to be publicly reported within 48 hours.

The legislation also would direct state officials to handle questions about testing data as formal information requests under Missouri's open-records law. That issue surfaced last year because the department did not treat questions about when the test results would be available as a formal request for the information.

Attorney General Chris Koster concluded last summer that no laws were violated, because no one sought the testing data in a way the department should have interpreted as a Sunshine Law request.

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