Runoff | St. Louis Public Radio

Runoff

The Missouri River in St. Charles County in September 2019.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

When corn and soybean farmer Kenny Reichard stopped plowing some of his fields in northern Missouri in 1982, other farmers told him that it was a terrible decision that would lower his yields. 

“I’ve been told many times that no-till doesn’t work,” said Reichard, 62, who farms north of Brunswick in Chariton County. 

More than three decades later, state programs and agriculture initiatives are trying to encourage farmers to adopt no-till and other practices that reduce fertilizer runoff that contributes to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. While many farmers think such methods are expensive, they’re critical to cleaning up the Mississippi River basin. 

A view of Lake Taneycomo in February 2018.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

On a bright, brisk winter day in Branson, Mo., several dedicated fishermen tried to catch trout in Lake Taneycomo, a fast-moving, ribbon-shaped lake that snakes around the city.

The water appeared clear, but the lake has some ongoing issues, said David Casaletto, executive director of Ozarks Water Watch, a water quality group. For example, heavy rains in the summer have caused low levels of dissolved oxygen, which has hurt the trout population.

Under a recently proposed water quality rule from the Environmental Protection Agency, Lake Taneycomo, Mark Twain Lake and Lake of the Ozarks are among 113 lakes and reservoirs in Missouri that would be defined as “impaired” or too polluted for human use.

Provided by the Metropolitan Sewer District of St. Louis

The first thing to notice about Clarice Hutchens’ front yard is that it isn’t a nicely manicured green lawn. Her house sits atop a steep hill and as you come up her driveway, you see piles of rocks, shrubs and trees that blend in well with the woods that surround her property.

Hutchens planted this rain garden, a garden built to absorb rainwater, shortly after she and her husband moved into their Ballwin home in 2004.

A dead zone with sediment from the Mississippi River carries fertilizer to the Gulf of Mexico.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

This story was updated to clarify how the EPA would proceed. 

The Environmental Protection Agency will  propose regulations on nutrient pollution by mid-December 2017 to settle a lawsuit filed by an environmental group in U.S. District Court. 

The Missouri Coalition for the Environment filed a lawsuit against the EPA in February for not adequately addressing the issue of nutrient pollution through the Clean Water Act. The EPA has agreed to propose rules by next year, unless the agency approves criteria submitted by the state before the deadline. 

Nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients enter waterways through fertilizer runoff and sewage treatment plant discharges. An overabundance of such nutrients have caused fish kills, harmful algal blooms and dead zones along the Mississippi River.

Provided by Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Engineering researchers at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville are helping the Illinois Department of Transportation develop strategies for managing stormwater runoff on highways.

Highways and roads interrupt the natural flow of water during rains and especially heavy precipitation could cause much of the runoff to overload sewers. Runoff also can taint the water quality of the rivers and streams that it enters.

A dead zone with sediment from the Mississippi River carries fertilizer to the Gulf of Mexico.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Environmental advocates are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to manage nutrient pollution from states that border the Mississippi River. 

The Mississippi River Collaborative, a group of environmental policy experts, recently released a new report that describes how the 10 states along the river are not making progress in reducing the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus that eventually make its way down to the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone. 

A stormwater drain.
KOMU via Flickr

With a large percentage of land paved over, St. Louis City and many other area municipalities have encountered problems with water runoff. In addition to the nuisance of standing water on streets, water runoff can cause health and environmental concerns.

The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, the City of Frontenac and the Missouri Botanical Garden are all looking to one solution to the problem - RainScaping.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 7, 2012 - Over the past few years, the area where the Mississippi River connects with the Gulf of Mexico has been battered and ravaged by storms and hurricanes, not to mention the spill from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

In addition, pollutants and chemicals harmful to the river and its wildlife have trickled down from the north, flowing down the 2,320 miles of the Mississippi, mixing with the water and latching onto the riverbed.

Commentary: MSD and sustainable infrastructure

Feb 8, 2012

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 8, 2012 - Sometimes, when it rains, it pours. In St. Louis, when it pours, it pollutes. The reason: our mostly 19th-century systems for managing wastewater and stormwater lack the capacity to process the huge amounts of water that enter these systems during storm events. As a consequence, the excess - and untreated -- waste and storm waters are diverted from the system into urban streams and rivers or back up onto streets and into houses and commercial buildings.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 3, 2010 - The Mississippi River that flows by our town may get cleaner faster as a result of a recent Environmental Protection Agency decision. In fact, the federal government is requiring Missouri to make the river along its entire 195-mile stretch on the Missouri border suitable for "whole body contact" -- meaning it should be both fishable and swimmable.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 23, 2009 - The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, which covers all of the city of St. Louis and roughly 80 percent of St. Louis County, is embarking on what district officials are calling "one of the largest public infrastructure programs in our area's history."