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Columbia officials question proposals to limit runoff in Hinkson Creek

Monday, November 22, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 5:34 p.m. CST, Saturday, January 1, 2011

COLUMBIA — The latest government proposal to limit the runoff flowing into Hinkson Creek is meeting with stiff resistance from the city.

This is the third such proposal submitted to the city of Columbia by the Environmental Protection Agency and Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The city rejected the previous two as too costly.

The EPA has issued a public notice and is accepting comments from the public on the current draft until Dec. 1.

Boone County Commissioner Karen Miller said the city, Boone County government and MU plan to respond to the EPA by the comment deadline. Leaders of the three agencies had a closed meeting on Nov. 12 to decide what their comments would be.

Miller said they had not decided whether to pursue legal action against the EPA.

The latest proposal would require Columbia to reduce its stormwater runoff into Hinkson Creek by 39.6 percent. The two previous proposals, released in September 2009 and April, would have required Columbia to reduce its stormwater runoff by two-thirds and 50.1 percent, respectively.

"We think it's the wrong approach," Don Stamper of the Central Missouri Development Council said of the new proposal. "We've had great concerns about the draft before."

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources placed the segment of Hinkson Creek that runs through Columbia on its impaired stream list in September 2004, meaning pollution in the stream is too high for swimming, drinking and maintaining aquatic life, among other things.

The EPA was charged with establishing total maximum daily loads for a number of bodies of water, including Hinkson Creek, in the 2001 case American Canoe Association v. The United States Environmental Protection Agency. A total maximum daily load is a document which states the maximum flow into a river that a city can have. Under the ruling, the deadline for the EPA to implement a TMDL under this decision is Dec. 31.

Ken Midkiff, conservation chairman for the Osage Group of the Sierra Club, said he supports the proposed restrictions on stormwater runoff. Midkiff represented the Sierra Club in the 2001 case.

Midkiff said that while it would be much easier if a specific pollutant or pollutants were identified, the EPA is right to use stormwater runoff as a measure of pollution because the pollutants are unknown.

"I think it's entirely appropriate that the EPA and DNR are using stormwater runoff as a surrogate," Midkiff said. "It's legal and appropriate. There's no doubt in my mind that stormwater runoff does carry contaminants that cause impairment in Hinkson Creek."

Midkiff said various studies of Hinkson Creek have shown it is impaired.

"The last study was done two summers ago, maybe three summers ago," Midkiff said. "It identified a lot of problems. Hinkson Creek is little more than an open sewer."

The latest draft from the EPA describes numerous pollutants entering Hinkson Creek via stormwater runoff, including insecticides and herbicides, chloride, heavy metals and waste oil.

"The EPA took responsibility for the TMDL because we are the party to the 2001 consent decree related to the American Canoe Association, and we are responsible to ensure it is completed by Dec. 31," EPA spokesman Kris Lancaster said. "We performed modeling to be consistent with other TMDLs of this type that we are establishing in Missouri."

The EPA does not identify a specific pollutant in its TMDL, instead focusing on stormwater runoff as a source of several pollutants. Stamper identified this as a problem.

"They can't go after specific pollutants because they haven't identified them," Stamper said. "We think that research into the creek is important now."

The current draft prescribes a lower target for runoff reduction, but Steve Hunt, environmental engineer for the city, said the drafts were "fundamentally pretty similar."

"They both use the surrogate method that ties pollutants into stormwater flow, and both are asking for a reduction in peak flows in the creek," Hunt said.

The proposals from the Department of Natural Resources, he said, "had an implementation schedule, and the city proposed an implementation portion to include that the creek be studied — similar to what was done as background information to prepare the TMDL. The EPA version doesn't have that implementation piece in it."

Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill, whose ward includes Hinkson Creek, warned that the costs of implementing the EPA proposal could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. He noted that the city's stormwater utility is in considerable disrepair, and the EPA's requirements would render it an "unusable utility."

City Manager Bill Watkins questioned the scientific basis for the latest proposal.

"It's certainly not current science," Watkins said. "Personally I don't believe the science that's gone into the TMDL is worth basing multi-multi-multi-million dollar implementation on."

Watkins advocated further study of the creek, saying that "spending just a few dollars now and really understanding what the issues are, not just having some policy wonk from D.C. come to mid-Missouri and tell us what to do" would be preferred.

"I think what they're asking for is crazy," Watkins said.


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