Missouri agency plans to ignore EPA's order for Hinkson Creek

Thursday, August 4, 2011 | 6:40 p.m. CDT; updated 7:45 a.m. CDT, Friday, August 5, 2011

COLUMBIA — When stakeholders meet Friday in the next step toward cleaning up Hinkson Creek, they plan to ignore the orders of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Joe Engeln, of the Department of Natural Resources, has said on separate occasions this summer that the state's plan for cleaning up Hinkson Creek will disregard the EPA's order to reduce stormwater runoff by 39.6 percent.

Hinkson Creek stakeholder meeting

Boone County, the city of Columbia and MU will meet Friday to finalize the list of representatives that will join them on the stakeholder committee for implementing a Hinkson Creek cleanup plan.

The meeting will take place from 3 to 4 p.m. in  Commission Room 338 of the Roger B. Wilson Boone County Government Center.

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Engeln said the department's approach for Hinkson Creek aims to restore the biological community of the creek — regardless of how much stormwater runoff is reduced.

Kris Lancaster, spokesman for EPA Region 7, said Wednesday that the agency was not aware of the state's plan to disregard the order. The 39.6 percent reduction would meet the EPA's limit on the amount of pollution that can enter the creek. That limit is known as the Total Maximum Daily Load.

"Any modification of a TMDL requires the approval of EPA, regardless of whether the TMDL was established by the state or EPA," he added via e-mail.

Lancaster said that when the limit is established, it's the state's role to ensure implementation is consistent with what the agency outlines. He repeated that a TMDL cannot be revised without agency approval.

Engeln said the EPA's report allows the state to revise the cleanup plan when new data are collected.

The 39.6 percent reduction was the EPA's best estimate for restoring the creek, based on available data, he said.

"They recognize that number may be superseded based on additional science," he said.

The EPA report on Hinkson Creek states that "it may be appropriate to revise these TMDLs based on analyses performed after additional data and information has been collected."

The Department of Natural Resources does not yet have that additional data, Engeln said, and will not for some time. He called the department's plan for the creek "adaptive management," a kind of trial-and-error process where stormwater reduction methods are tried and later tested. The starting point for that plan will be data that already exist — data used to establish the 39.6 percent reduction.

Ken Midkiff, chairman of the Sierra Club's Clean Water Coalition, said the department's plan "sort of, to my mind, flies in the face of what the EPA recommended. The DNR is doing this under the guise of adaptive management."

Midkiff represented the Sierra Club in a 2001 lawsuit against the EPA that prompted the limit for Hinkson Creek. The creek has been on the state's impaired waters list since 1998 for unknown pollutants, generally attributed to stormwater.

Ten years later, Hinkson Creek is still on the state's impaired waters list, and the cleanup's lag has continued throughout the summer.

Adaptive management calls for the formation of a stakeholder group to guide the cleanup effort. At a Sierra Club meeting in Columbia at the end of May, Engeln and two other Department of Natural Resources representatives, including director Sara Parker Pauley, said they expected the adaptive management plan to be fully engaged in June.

The full complement of stakeholders will not be finalized until Friday, Boone County Commissioner Karen Miller said.

Midkiff expressed concern, however, that the stakeholder group will only further delay the cleanup process.

"It’s my opinion that this is nothing more than a delaying tactic, depending on who is appointed," Midkiff said. "If someone is appointed that views Hinkson Creek as not even being impaired in spite of all the data, that would be of even more concern."

The county, city of Columbia and MU — the three entities with a stormwater permit for Hinkson Creek — have chosen representatives for the group from the Central Missouri Development Council, Columbia Public Schools, Sierra Club, Soil and Water Conservation Board, Smart Growth, Missouri Stream Team, the agricultural community and local property owners.

The county, city and university will continue to lead the group of 15 members in future decisions. Those three entities hired a lawyer in December to challenge the EPA's recommendations and question the use of stormwater as a surrogate for a specific pollutant.

The viability of stormwater as a source of pollution has been debated both in Columbia and elsewhere, but according to the EPA, thousands of waters throughout the U.S. are impaired by stormwater.

Engeln said there is no doubt stormwater is involved in the pollution of Hinkson Creek, but he does not see a 39.6 percent reduction as the end goal.

"Let's say we actually reduce stormwater exactly as defined in the TMDL," Engeln said. "What happens if the biological community is not yet restored?"

To develop their own cleanup plans, Miller said the stakeholders have organized two separate subcommittees to handle Hinkson Creek. A committee set up by the Department of Natural Resources will focus on developing strategies, which the stakeholders will review and pass to another committee of city and county workers for implementation.

"We have to keep it moving," Miller said. "Our goal is to improve the stream's quality, and we believe adaptive management is the best solution, so that's the road we're taking."

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