Cleaning up streams would cost $300,000

A hearing addresses the cost of making local creeks fit for swimming.
Wednesday, January 19, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:54 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

New stream regulations that could clean up streams throughout Missouri could also cost the Boone County Sewer District more than $300,000.

The sewer district disinfects effluent at four of its sites, but if new measures are accepted by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the district would have to modify 43 more sites to disinfect wastewater with chlorine before it entered local streams, such as Perche Creek, Rocky Fork Creek, Grindstone Creek and Hinkson Creek.

The drafted regulations are part of the Missouri DNR’s effort to meet a court-mandated April 2006 deadline to develop regulations for all of its waterways. The Missouri Coalition for the Environment settled a lawsuit with the Environmental Protection Agency in December, charging that the EPA failed to enforce a “fishable and swimmable” standard to all of Missouri’s waterways, as declared in the Clean Water Act.

Out of Missouri’s 55,000 miles of streams, 22,000 are classified streams, or streams capable of supporting recreation. Currently, 5,000 miles of those classified streams are protected for whole-body contact, but the DNR plans to designate the remaining 17,000 miles as “swimmable.” DNR estimates in a “worst-case scenario” that “911” treatment facilities will have to upgrade in some way — at a cost of $230 million.

That estimate was the subject of intense debate Tuesday at the DNR conference center, where DNR water-protection staff fielded questions from sewage plant operators, municipal utilities, farmers, environmental groups and concerned citizens from across the state.

The Water Quality Coordinating Committee meeting had a daunting agenda — weigh and discuss the stakeholders’ divergent concerns and resolve them to come up with a Regulatory Impact Report and a rule that will satisfy the EPA and the stakeholders. Regulatory Impact Reports are a new standard that precede any rule making and include 13 criteria aimed at evaluating costs and benefits of any regulatory rule DNR proposes. To develop such a rule for Missouri’s streams, the committee must find a middle ground.

This proved elusive Tuesday morning.

“We’re asking for a commonsense approach,” said Mary West, director of public utilities in Moberly. West said the city of Moberly had to raise sewer rates more than 400 percent since November 2002 and want to direct their funds toward fixing an overflow problem in their combined sewer system.

Economics dominated the discussion all morning as stakeholders asked how to quantify recreational use value, doctor’s visits due to sickness from bacteria exposure and the cost of potential upgrades to their facilities.

Ken Midkiff of the Sierra Club was a frequent contributor to the debate, and said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had data on the health costs of exposure to polluted water. Midkiff has said all urban streams — like Hinkson Creek — should be “swimmable” because kids won’t stay out of them.

The draft regulations call for plants to disinfect wastewater if they are within two miles of a stream designed for whole body contact. If a facility wants to challenge whether anyone actually swims in the water, the burden falls on them to collect data from May to October over multiple seasons proving people don’t use that area for recreation.

But even if the analysis is approved by DNR, it still has to be approved by the EPA. The department provides guidelines and trains people how to conduct the analysis.

“We built as much integrity into that process as possible,” said Aimee Davenport, legal counsel for the Water Protection and Soil Conservation Division of DNR.

As DNR tries to weigh the concerns of stakeholders and developing a plan for Missouri’s waterways, it is also dealing with staff changes as Gov. Matt Blunt puts his staff in place.

“(Deputy division director) Brian Fawks’ experience will be missed,” Davenport said. “But we are not going to let that derail the process.”

Phil Schroeder from DNR said early during the discussion that he saw more meetings in the committee’s future. The group will take up the task again at 10 a.m. on Jan. 27 in the Truman Building in Jefferson City.

If the Clean Water Commission fails to satisfy the EPA deadline, DNR expects the EPA to designate all 55,000 miles as swimmable, a policy that could potentially cost much more than the proposed plan.

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