Alleging that the EPA’s new drinking water rules undermine protection of Missouri lakes, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment sued the agency Tuesday in federal court.

In a news release about the suit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, the coalition said measures need to be taken to prevent excessive algae blooms and die-offs because of nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into the state’s lakes. Algae blooms are more common at higher temperatures after precipitation, which has been on the rise in recent years. This year, Missouri experienced the hottest September in 122 years, with lows more than 20 degrees warmer than the previous record-breaking September of 1897. Also this year, Columbia had the fifth-snowiest January on record, according to previous Missourian reporting.

The coalition alleges that in 2011 the EPA, under previous leadership, encouraged Missouri to develop numeric criteria to protect lakes from nutrient pollution. Missouri chose instead to employ “screening thresholds” for nitrogen and phosphorus, the two potentially pollutive nutrients of most concern. If exceeded, these thresholds trigger an investigation inquiry into water bodies, unlike numeric criteria, which would establish impairment of water bodies if exceeded.

Missouri’s newer standards contain numeric criteria only for chlorophyll a, which the coalition says is present only after an initial contamination of nitrogen and phosphorus, the causal pollutants.

“The new regulations only apply once a lake or reservoir is polluted,” said Heather Navarro, the coalition’s executive director, in a news release from the organization. “This is one of many examples of how Gov. Parson and Missouri lawmakers are eroding clean water protections by making our laws and regulations reactive at a time when they should be preventing pollution.”

This issue isn’t new. The coalition sued the EPA in 2016 for failing to implement the standards it set in 2011, which were then rolled back, according to previous Missourian reporting. The EPA’s proactive nutrient protection plan at the time would have designated 113 Missouri lakes and 738 wastewater facilities as noncompliant, requiring a $1.7 billion fix. The adopted plan ultimately designated just 30 lakes and 34 wastewater plants.

The Missouri Clean Water Commission, which sets policy and regulations in accordance with the Clean Water Act, gained attention in 2016, when the legislature overrode then-Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto on legislation that allowed those with agricultural or mining industry affiliations to be appointed. The commission has power to issue permits, grant assistance and enforce policy to protect Missouri waters, and critics of the legislation were upset that the new law gave power to the industries historically responsible for water pollution.

Former Gov. Eric Greitens appointed three members with ties to the agricultural industries, and one of them, Stan Coday, still serves on the commission. The commission has two members representing the general public, and three members representing wastewater treatment, agriculture, industry or mining, according to its website.

  • Public Health and Safety reporter, fall 2019 Studying investigative journalism Reach me at xmncvc@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5720

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