EPA unwavering on Hinkson Creek

Monday, January 31, 2011 | 3:44 p.m. CST; updated 2:36 p.m. CST, Monday, February 28, 2011

COLUMBIA — The EPA issued its final recommendations for cleaning up Hinkson Creek on Monday.

Upholding its use of stormwater as the primary pollutant, the EPA recommends a 39.6 percent reduction in urban stormwater runoff.

The EPA identifies numerous pollutants entering Hinkson Creek via stormwater runoff, including insecticides and herbicides, chloride, heavy metals and waste oil.

Hinkson Creek has been designated an impaired stream by the state Department of Natural Resources since 1998.

In a 148-page response to public comments, the EPA affirmed that:

  • Stormwater is a legal and appropriate measure of Hinkson Creek's pollution.
  • Its plan for cleaning up Hinkson Creek is not "impossible to implement."
  • A sufficient amount of study has been conducted on the creek.
  • Its plans provide ample opportunity for making implementation changes over time.

The EPA's response refutes many of the objections Columbia, Boone County, and MU raised regarding the EPA's plan to clean up Hinkson Creek, including the legality of using stormwater as a measure of pollution.

The final recommendations are similar to the EPA's draft recommendations released on Oct. 26. Both the final and draft recommendations called for the city to reduce stormwater runoff by the same amount.

But the EPA inserted language into its final recommendations that call for an "adaptive," "iterative" approach for implementation.

"We tried to make this a 'learn and improve' style of TMDL (total maximum daily load)," Karl Brooks, senior administrator for EPA Region 7, said. "The TMDL is designed to meet the data as we gather it — an adaptive effort."

TMDL refers both to the maximum load that can enter a creek without it becoming impaired and recommendations to remove a stream from the impaired designation.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources is now legally responsible for ensuring the EPA's recommendations are implemented.

David Shorr of the law firm Lathrop and Gage, who drafted the city, county and MU's response to the EPA's draft recommendations, said he was pleased the EPA took into consideration his desire for a phased, adaptive approach.

"We’re reviewing the document to determine if it provides sufficient changes to meet our primary concerns of there being a phased methodology based on current data utilizing a cost-effective approach," Shorr said.

Shorr objects to the EPA's approach to measuring the pollution in Hinkson Creek and said, "I think that using a surrogate that has a high cost-ratio is aggressive," referring to the use of stormwater as a measure of pollution.

The city of Columbia estimated the cost of implementing a 39.6 percent reduction of stormwater at $30 million to $300 million. These estimates were based on Potash Brook, a stream in South Burlington, Vt., which was the first waterway to use stormwater as a measure of pollution in 2006.

"When you look at the cost figures, I’m afraid some of them are oversimplified," John DeLashmit, chief of the EPA Region 7 water quality division, said on Monday. "They’ve taken the cost of Potash Brook and multiplied it by a ratio. But there are a number of considerations for cost. Potash Brook is 53 percent developed; Columbia is only 21 percent developed."

The EPA's recommendations for Potash Brook have not yet been implemented.

The use of stormwater as a measure of a creek's pollution remains in its fledgling stages, and many problems have yet to be solved. A major problem has to do with spreading the cost of new stormwater management systems.

If a point-source of pollution were identified, the costs of reducing it would fall upon the owner of that source, for instance, a factory owner. With stormwater being used as a pollutant, however, nearly all property owners in Columbia are identified as part of the problem.

Ken Midkiff, conservation chairman of the Osage Group of the Sierra Club, whose 2001 lawsuit against the EPA set these proceedings into motion, is sensitive to the issue.

"Lowe's and Sam’s Club’s burden should be higher than someone who has a driveway," Midkiff said. "The runoffs from super-center parking lots are astronomically greater. But the City Council cannot escape blame. They have allowed development that increases the amount of stormwater runoff. For the city to say it’s not responsible or liable for projects they have approved is disingenuous."

Don Stamper, executive director of the Central Missouri Development Council, said the EPA's stormwater restrictions will make development "a lot more expensive."

"Our organization continues to be concerned with this idea that we will continue to clean up the creek by reducing stormwater volume," Stamper said.
"We think there is a better approach that can be made."

Stamper disputed that developers should pay a disproportionate amount to clean up the creek, even though they may be responsible for higher levels of runoff.

"Every driveway, every rooftop and every parking lot contributes to the problem," Stamper said. "You can’t build a community by only taxing some people. What that does is place an additional burden on any commercial growth."

Brooks made clear that the EPA does not have the legal authority to mandate land-use changes.

"The state and local governments that are responsible for land-use are the ones who will be the architects of this," Brooks said. "Columbia is at the forefront of land-use planning. We've really initiated a race to the future in Columbia."

City Manager Bill Watkins and Public Works Director John Glascock could not be reached for comment. Columbia Manager of Environmental Services Steve Hunt would not comment.

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Ellis Smith January 31, 2011 | 6:45 p.m.

"The EPA's recommendations for Potash Brook have not yet been implemented." After how many years?

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