Ruling makes goal of water standard urgent

A decree requires the state to set a clean water plan by April 2006.
Thursday, January 6, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:46 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

A recent federal lawsuit could soon be making waves in waterways across the state of Missouri.

An April 2006 deadline for new regulations was undoubtedly the most pressing issue of the day. Wednesday for the Missouri Clean Water Commission. It met in front of a crowd that spilled out of a room that held 80 at the Holiday Inn Select Executive Center.

“Everyone in the state of Missouri is going to be impacted because of that lawsuit,” said Rep. C.J. Kuessner (D- Eminence).

The lawsuit, between the Missouri Coalition for the Environment and the EPA, was settled last week, and the consent decree said Missouri must get water quality standards approved by April 2006, or the EPA will set the regulations. Missouri does not have a uniform swimmable and fishable waterway standard similar to 31 other states including Illinois and Kansas. Instead, Missouri waterways are evaluated for designated beneficiary uses, and pollution standards are based on what the waterway is used for.

But the Missouri Coalition for the Environment said Missouri should implement a swimmable standard, or at least begin working toward it.

If the state doesn’t come up with regulations, by the deadline, the state believes the EPA will designate all 55,000 miles of streams for whole body contact. The cost for municipalities, industries and general taxpayers are estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars if that happens.

“We don’t want the 800-pound gorilla settings the standards for Missouri,” Kuessner said.

The state has 14 months to submit new standards to the EPA, and after the EPA reviews the standards, the state could get a further extension to correct any standards. For that to happen, stakeholders and the commission must come together to agree on the steps to move forward.

Steve Mahfood, recently retired director of the Department of Natural Resources, said developing sound standards is complex because there are so many divergent interests in Missouri.

“It’s going to take good planning and it can’t all be done at once,” Mahfood said. “We can’t afford it.”

The Clean Water Commission will have to prioritize how to act first, he said.

Scott Totten, director of the water protection and soil conservation division of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, led the presentation and said the state would need volunteers in the field to conduct use attainability analysis, which will determine if a stream has in the past or can be used for swimming. If there is a recreational use present it has to comply with the whole body standard.

Urban streams, such as Hinkson Creek, pose significant challenges for regulators because so many stakeholders are involved.

“It should be automatically assumed kids are going to swim in urban streams,” said Ken Midkiff, conservation chair of the Missouri Sierra Club. “They should be protected.”

That issue, as well as the Department of Natural Resources’ response to public comments, and ideas for proposed regulations will be discussed at the Jan. 18 Clean Water Committee meeting in Jefferson City.

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