EPA Approves Missouri's New Water Quality Standards, But Do They Go Far Enough? | St. Louis Public Radio

EPA Approves Missouri's New Water Quality Standards, But Do They Go Far Enough?

Oct 24, 2014

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has signed off on a major overhaul of Missouri's water quality standards.

The state approved the new regulations in November 2013 but needed federal approval to start enforcing them.

The Current and Jacks Fork Rivers in the Missouri Ozarks are among the most pristine in the state. The U.S. EPA has recommended that Missouri designate waters with particularly diverse or rare aquatic species as "exceptional aquatic habitat," which would provide them with a higher level of protection.
Credit National Parks Service

John DeLashmit directs the water quality management branch for EPA Region 7. He said prior to this, about 80 percent of Missouri’s waters lacked the specific pollution limits required by federal law.

"This action by the state of Missouri will add 2,300 lakes and [...] over 91,000 miles of streams and rivers to the full protection of the Clean Water Act," DeLashmit said. "So this is a huge deal.”

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources estimates that to comply, the state’s water treatment plants may need to spend more than $1.1 billion in capital costs to disinfect and remove ammonia from their discharges, along with tens of millions more in additional annual operation and maintenance costs. You can read the details on pp.12-14 of this 2012 Regulatory Impact Report.

But the new regulations still leave many waters unprotected ― and out of compliance with the federal Clean Water Act.

The Missouri Coalition for the Environment’s Clean Water Program Director Lorin Crandall called the state’s new water quality standards disappointing. “It’s a half-step in the right direction, but we should have gotten there 30 years ago,” Crandall said.

Crandall said Missouri has been out of compliance with the federal Clean Water Act since 1983.

And he said even though the new state standards will limit pollution in many more lakes, rivers, and streams, they do nothing to protect wetlands. “And yet there are hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands in our state that provide essential ecosystem services that oftentimes exceed those of lakes and rivers,” Crandall said.

According to the Missouri Wetland Program Plan, the state has committed to set pollution limits for wetlands by 2018.

You can find out more about Missouri's new water quality standards here.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience