ST. LOUIS * Tens of thousands of miles of Missouri rivers,
streams and creeks would get protection from E. coli bacteria and
other pollutants under a sweeping upgrade to water protection laws
being considered by the state's Clean Water Commission.
The Environmental Protection Agency told the state more than a
decade ago that it needed to update its water quality standards to
comply with the federal Clean Water Act. After years of meetings,
debate and two lawsuits that tried to force the EPA to implement the
standards, the Department of Natural Resources has put forward a
proposal that will be subject to a public hearing at 9 a.m. today in
The commission, a seven-member citizen panel appointed by the
governor, is expected to vote on the proposal at its November
meeting. The new rules would put specific limits on pollutants in
waters across the state and prompt small wastewater treatment
facilities to treat their discharges.
If approved, the new standards are expected to take effect early
The current proposal represents one of the broadest environmental
rule makings in recent memory and one that most people involved in
the process agree is long overdue.
While E. coli problems at Lake of the Ozarks and Kiefer Creek in
St. Louis County called attention to water-quality problems in
recent years, regulators and the public can't be sure whether other
rivers, creeks and streams are safe because there are no numeric
limits on pollution and no monitoring.
Roger Walker, a lawyer and executive director of Regform, an
association of some of the state's biggest businesses that works on
environmental compliance issues, said the rules need to be put in
place or the state runs the risk of seeing the federal government
take over responsibility for water quality.
"This stuff has been put on hold too long," he said. "We're at a
tipping point here with respect to getting court involvement and EPA
regional involvement. If we want to have a state program, and
protect Missouri waters with Missouri resources and Missouri
stakeholders, this is our opportunity to step up to the plate."
The Missouri Coalition for the Environment has pressed the state
for more than a decade to update its water quality standards to
comply with the Clean Water Act. The group twice filed lawsuits in
an effort to force the EPA to step in and do the job.
In the most recent lawsuit, decided in February 2012, a federal
judge sided with the EPA, saying the federal government has
discretion on whether to implement water quality rules in Missouri.
But the order also made clear that the state was in violation of the
Clean Water Act.
'A MAJOR STEP'
The coalition says the proposal still falls short because it
omits thousands of small and intermittent streams, headwaters and
wetlands waters vital to protecting fish, shellfish and wildlife
and human health. Today some of those water bodies, like those being
protected, are choked with sediment or rife with bacteria.
St. Louis-area bodies of water that would remain unprotected
under the proposed rules include Simpson Lake in west St. Louis
County; a segment of Gravois Creek through Grant's Farm; part of
Caulks Creek in north St. Louis County; and lakes at August A. Busch
Memorial Conservation Area, according to the coalition.
Though the group wants the rule to cover additional bodies of
water, it is supporting the rules.
"It's a major step in the right direction," said Peter Goode, an
environmental engineer with Washington University's
Interdisciplinary Environmental Law Clinic, which is providing legal
counsel to the coalition.
While the EPA hasn't yet chosen to step in and promulgate water
quality regulations in Missouri, the agency has been a constant
presence during the rulemaking process. …