COLUMBIA — Sara Parker Pauley said the Missouri Department of Natural Resources had a bit of a celebration last week. When Missouri’s legislative session ended, it meant her department could stop explaining federal law at the state capitol and start working on new initiatives.
Among those initiatives are applying a more watershed-based approach to the water protection program, increasing community education and infusing a more scientific approach across the department's various programs, Pauley, DNR director and Columbia native, said while addressing the Sierra Club at Mizzou Hillel on Tuesday. Pauley, a Hickman High School graduate with a law degree and bachelor’s degree in journalism from MU, became the department’s director in December.
The department's science and technology initiative focuses on implementing more calculated decision making and "outside-the-box thinking." Pauley said the DNR relies on permits, inspections and enforcement, but she said she hopes to “add more tools to the toolbox.”
“Rather than waiting for an environmental resource to fall into disrepair, how do we ensure protection today?” Pauley said.
A prime example of that new strategy is the DNR’s implementation plan for cleaning up Hinkson Creek, a technique it refers to as “adaptive management,” which it will be trying for the first time on the creek.
Joe Engeln, the DNR's assistant director for science and technology, said adaptive management relies heavily on monitoring and stakeholder groups. For Hinkson Creek, the primary stakeholders are the city, Boone County and MU. Engeln said that rather than dictating how those and other stakeholders reduce runoff, the department would organize a stakeholder community including those three groups and many others that would decide what action to take.
Extensive monitoring of Hinkson Creek would allow those stakeholders and the DNR to determine whether their reduction measures are working. Engeln said he expects this plan to be fully engaged in June, using previous sampling data as a baseline for future monitoring. The plan largely ignores the Environmental Protection Agency-recommended 39.6 percent reduction in stormwater runoff.
“We don’t know whether 39.6 matters or not,” Engeln said. “We’re focused on the biological community.”
Engeln said the DNR can’t say with any great confidence that any one action will solve Hinkson Creek's problems, and said he thinks there are problems with how the EPA reached the number of 39.6 percent.
Because there are so many unknowns with Hinkson Creek, and “no smoking gun,” as Leanne Tippett Mosby, DNR director of environmental quality, said, the creek offers the DNR an opportunity to formally enact adaptive management techniques for the first time.
No deadline exists for the creek’s cleanup, but Pauley said she is confident there is enough public scrutiny on the effort that action will be prompt.
Hinkson Creek, Pauley pointed out, is just one impaired water body that was previously included on a list of hundreds in the state. She said she hopes the watershed initiative will help reduce that list.
Instead of monitoring water bodies with what Pauley called a “shotgun” approach, the department would target priority watersheds one at a time.
“It is going to allow us to target our resources more effectively,” Pauley said. “They’re all critically important, but how do we do a better job of ensuring that each watershed is moving forward?”
Pauley added that down the line, a watershed-based approach to water quality would affect more than just monitoring.
“This whole planning initiative has implications for everything we do,” she said.