ST. LOUIS — The Missouri Clean Water Commission has approved new water quality rules that bolster protection for rivers and lakes and bring the state closer to compliance with the federal Clean Water Act.
The revised standards, voted on Wednesday, set specific limits for pollutants discharged into an additional 90,000 miles of rivers and streams, and 2,100 lakes and are expected to require expensive upgrades for many water treatment facilities.
Missouri went decades without assigning uses or limits for about 150,000 miles of rivers, streams and wetlands, and the commission's vote comes 13 years after Missouri was warned by the Environmental Protection Agency that state water quality standards needed updating, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Thursday.
Federal intervention had seemed increasingly likely, and the revised water quality rules require formal approval from the EPA. The new rules are expected to take effect next year.
"It's been a long journey," said Karen Flournoy, who is the water division director for the EPA's regional office. "We think this action represents a huge improvement in the protection of Missouri's waters."
The Clean Water Act calls for the nation's waters to be safe for fishing and swimming unless there is a scientific study showing why it cannot happen. Limits are set on pollutants that can be discharged that are used in permitting factories, wastewater facilities and farms.
The Missouri Coalition for the Environment twice filed lawsuits against the EPA seeking to force the federal agency to implement water standards. In the most recent case, a judge sided with the EPA and concluded it had discretion to decide whether to institute rules for Missouri. The order also made clear that Missouri was in violation of the Clean Water Act.
Industry representatives, municipal utilities and environmental advocates had urged the Missouri Clean Water Commission to approve water-quality revisions while each recommending some changes to the proposal. The Missouri Farm Bureau did not support or oppose the rules but said the financial costs should be recognized.
A Missouri Department of Natural Resources report estimated public and private wastewater facilities could face $2 billion worth of capital projects and $200 million annually in additional operating costs.