By TIM SAMPSON
Missouri News Horizon
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Among items laid out Tuesday in a 12-point plan to improve water quality at the Lake of the Ozarks, Attorney General Chris Koster suggested that the state enact felony penalties for some violations of Missouri’s Clean Water Law.
The plan builds on testimony gathered during a two-day symposium held last August to investigate the factors influencing elevated levels of E. coli in the Lake of the Ozarks. And while lake issues inspired his plan, Koster said the effects of strengthening state statutes against pollution would help preserve waterways and natural lands throughout the state.
“Currently, the most a polluter can be criminally charged with is a misdemeanor regardless of the damage caused or the intent of the person who created the damage,” he said. “A citizen who pours half a can of motor oil into a storm sewer is treated no differently now than an interstate trucker who dumps thousands of gallons of gasoline into a road ditch.”
The state’s top law enforcement official also called on the legislature to increase the number of state inspectors and expand their authority, as well as give enhanced criminal and civil enforcement to county attorneys. The report notes the Missouri Department of Natural Resources currently employs only two inspectors to monitor Lake of the Ozarks’ 1,150 miles of shoreline.
In addition, Koster requests that the legislature grant state health inspectors the authority to investigate possible cases of pollution, even when not arising from a communicable disease investigation or an aggrieved landowner complaint.
No action is currently being undertaken in the General Assembly related to any of Koster’s proposals, but environmental leaders in the legislature applauded the study’s creation.
“Lake of the Ozarks is a crucial tourist attraction for the State of Missouri,” said Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, chair of the House Committee on Renewable Energy. “Residents and visitors depend on the state government to keep the lake clean.”
One of Koster’s proposals specific to Lake of Ozarks would require inspections for all on-site sewage disposal systems within 2,500 feet of the lake at the time of property sale. An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 private waste disposal systems exist around the lake, many installed before new environmental standards took effect in 1996. Suggesting that these on-site systems pose the biggest threat to the long-term viability of the lake, Koster also said the counties of Camden, Miller, Morgan and Benton should be encouraged to move forward with the formation of a regional sewer district.
To further aid in the creation and maintenance of such a sewage district, Koster recommended that the legislature consider giving the district the authority to generate revenue from a regional sales tax, since a significant portion of waste comes from tourists and part time residents.
Koster’s plan also addressed what he sees as the state’s need for a more rapid way to measure relative levels of E. coli in all waterways. The current method takes more than a day to produce enough bacteria colonies to determine the level present in the water. The report detailed two alternatives, a predictive model that would allow testing in two to four hours, and another that would use magnetic beads to extract E. coli directly from water samples. The later model, though more accurate, carries a price tag of $15,000 to $20,000 per unit of testing equipment.
But Koster said it could be money well spent, in spite of the state’s current budget shortfall.
“Experts agree that the current sampling methodology, whereby samples taken on a Monday or Tuesday to determine whether a beach should be closed on Saturday or Sunday is infective,” he said.
Highlights of Lake of the Ozarks Water Quality Summit
By REBECCA TOWNSEND
Missouri News Horizon
OSAGE BEACH, Mo. — As people exacerbate water quality issues around the Lake of the Ozark the onus of solution also lays in their collective lap, a wide variety of experts told top state legal authorities.
At Attorney General Chris Koster’s water quality symposium held in August, more than 40 specialists in fields ranging from sewer management and environmental science to prosecution, politics and economics testified. Their thoughts formed the basis for the 12-point plan Koster unveiled Tuesday.
Testimony Highlights from the Two-Day Conference
(A full transcript is available at the attorney general’s website.)
Water quality program director, University of Missouri Extension
“If much of [pollution] is non-point source, it’s the citizens that need to be making the decisions…If you want local people to be involved you have to figure out how they can take ownership…If you want good long-term local water shed protection, you have to have local people take control.”
“When I started this job, my boss said, ‘We’ve been telling people to do this for last 30 years and nothing’s changed. What is missing?’ We came to the conclusion we have not asked the people what are they willing to do.”
Chief hydrologist, U.S. Geological Survey
“Current [e Coli testing] methods really present some great challenges.”
It can take 18-24 hours to grow up a sample culture, during which time bacteria levels at the testing site can change dramatically. In some cases these increases or decreases can be a 100-fold or more.
“The bottom line is current methods we’re forced to use can be rather poor.”
“To say something about E. coli densities at a testing site today, we have to use sample results from yesterday. Or to say something about E. coli counts at the testing site on Saturday, we must collect a sample on Friday. This delay forces us into a “predicting” mode, and since E. coli counts can change dramatically in 24 hours, the current method were forced to use can be rather poor at determining E. coli densities for monitoring recreational water quality.”
Director of state parks, Missouri Department of Natural Resources
“In past took up to 2 days to close a beach – now it’s as quick as two hours.”
“Just because there’s a beach closure, does not mean it is at the Lake of the Ozarks.”
DNR staff samples water on Mondays. On Wednesday, it receives test results and makes beach-closure decisions.
If a sample result exceeds 235 E. coli colonies per 100 milliliters the beach is closed….
DNR surveyed 40 states and two federal agencies to determine how others approach public awareness and safety: 27 states and the National Park Service will post an advisory that recommends against swimming- but they do not close the beach.
Chief of Environmental Health Services, Mo. Dept of Health and Senior Services
Between 2005 and 2009, Missouri had no confirmed E. coli outbreaks associated with recreational waters.
In 2006 there was a cryptosporidium outbreak in a water park or pool that sicken 2 people ill. In 2007 there was one reported recreational cryptosporidium outbreak in a wading pool. In 2009, there was there was 1 reported outbreak from cold spring water and the cause was unknown.
In the spring of this year, DHSS investigated an outbreak of E. coli associated with a private well that served a community fitness facility.
HUS, or hemolytic uremic syndrome, kidney failure and death are among the worst-case scenario for those poisoned by E. coli.
In 2009, we had 7 cases of HUS reported to DHSS—no documented deaths reported; the cases were associated with food, travel and animal contact. No recreational water association.
“I see more reactive response to the problem. I think it would be beneficial to become more proactive with education and prevention as the focus.”
“…it seems that we are concentrating on sewage failures, when there are a variety of contributing factors…many factors that contribute to the contamination of recreational water.”
Senior research specialist, University of Missouri Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Science
“Phosphorous and nitrogen are naturally occurring. Having these nutrients in your lake is not a bad thing, you need some in the lake for it to be happy…It’s when excess nutrients lead to excess algae growth that problems begin.”
Cloudier water don’t get as much algae growth because the suspended soil particles block sunlight and impede plant growth.
“The water at the Lake of the Ozarks most years is three times clearer than the average Missouri lake….It’s the third best for clarity in the state, after Table Rock and Stockton.”
“There’s no real long-term trend in terms of increasing or decreasing phosphorous concentrations…”
The Lake of the Ozarks belongs to a large watershed that extends above the Truman Dam and into Kansas through deep, nutrient-rich soils.
The challenge of hydrology: Inconsistent flow and transfer rates are a “big hurdle” when trying to understand and address water quality issues.
Water quality monitoring section chief, Mo. Dept. of Natural Resources
“It doesn’t take much to tip the balance and cause these large [algae] blooms.”
“Excessive levels of nitrogen and phosphorous can cause large algae booms and cause dissolved oxygen depletion, which can cause a shift in the aquatic community to tolerant species and possibly result in fish kills. Excessive sediment loads can increase turbidity, suspended sediment, add phosphorous to the system and smother fish nesting sites.
Other challenges include manmade organic chemicals…the effects of each chemical is different with respect to the impact on water quality and aquatic life.
A five-year baseline Lake of the Ozarks water quality study funded by Ameren UE involves 78 sites in main channel, near major creek channels and waster water treatment facilities.
“Without the LOWA volunteer participation to collect the samples, my staff would not be able to collect samples from a comparable area on the lake.”
“Bacteria are not homogenous in a water column…they not evenly distributed…You can dip out of one side of the boat and get one number and dip out the other and get a different number.”
Rielly also highlighted the critical affects on water quality issues of storm water runoff and rain frequency and intensity.
Director, Missouri Economic Research and Information Center
“The lake is a $5 billion economic asset…..Camden County is a ‘retail powerhouse.’”
The Lake area takes in about $750,000 in taxable sales a day. Since the dam was built, population at the Lake has grown 170.5%. Missouri’s overall population growth during this time increased 51.4%. Growth in non-metro areas statewide was 17.1%.
The lake has “made all the difference in the economic development in this areas.” It’s seen 2-4 times more economic activity generated than surrounding states’ lake areas.
“There’s a wide swath of potential future for the lake, but it all comes down to the water…”
“The lake was a huge selling point for Columbia to get the IBM plant…”
More than 4,200 people are looking for jobs in the Lake area…Missouri employment loss is 5 percent compared to 6 percent nationwide.
Hydro operations manager, Ameren UE
“Shoreline management and storm water pollution: Those are our two big kickers in terms of water quality (and) what we can do to control what gets into lake…”
“A lot of it is public education; what vegetative programs we can put into control runoff into the lake…protecting wetlands…”
State geologist, Missouri Department of Natural Resources
“The same geological conditions that create that same outstanding ruggedness also create vulnerabilities.”
Caves, sinkholes, spring and losing streams are all features of the area’s karst topography. Water in karst systems “can move in unexpected directions and move very quickly in a very short amount of time.”
“Many activities that take place on the surface can affect subsurface waters.”
Also, because of the tremendous capacity of water to travel through the system in quick and unpredictable ways, “regional factors can contribute to water quality issues at the lake.”
“In this geology we are dealing with here – it can create circumstances where we need to look outside our very local environment to understand the effects and sources.”
Director, Missouri DNR, division of environmental quality
Elevated phosphorous in the Gravois Arm and nitrogen in the Osage Arm put the Lake of the Ozarks on the proposed 2010 list of Missouri waters considered impaired by federal standards. Known as the 303(d) list, it is submitted every two years to the EPA.
“The Lake of the Ozarks is not on the list for bacterial contamination.”
The state must every two years submit to EPA a 305(b) report providing an overview of the relative health or impairment of all the state’s navigable waters. The last report was submitted in 2008.
Missouri will develop Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, plans for bringing impaired waters back into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act.
“If EPA doesn’t approve what state has put together, it will have to do its own…”
The DNR is charged with inspecting the 419 facilities around the lake with federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits. “But I can’t say that happens on a regular basis…”
The statutorily mandated fee structure that supports inspections is a decade old; it has not kept up with inflation and revenue is static.
Engineer, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, bureau of environmental health services
“Onsite [septic] systems source 1 in 4 households in Missouri; the proportion is higher in the 4 counties around the lake.”
Onsite systems also serve many small businesses.
Before 94, Missouri had no standards for onsite treatment systems. In 1994, Senate Bill 446 – gave the Department of Health jurisdiction over onsite construction standards, professional registration. Local standards were allowed if they were at least as stringent as the state’s.
Now 32 local health agencies review construction applications, with training help from DHSS, DHSS handles permits in 20 counties and 60 counties have ordinances where they generally do permitting and variance reviews without much assistance from state.
The areas with local ordinances have “generally been more effective” than state-directed efforts.
“In the last 15 years…there has been growth in technology; there are more options available today for treating and distributing water on site.”
Before the health department can inspect existing systems, the statue requires a complaint from aggrieved party or adjacent landowner.
Deputy director, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, division of environmental quality
Of 2,100 site-specific investigations per year, about 65 are referred to the attorney general’s office for legal action.
The DNR does about 5,000 site visits per year with 36 inspectors statewide and some help from engineers at regional offices.
Chief counsel, Missouri Attorney General’s Office, agriculture and environment division
Attorney General’s office received 104 referrals since Koster took office in January 2009. There are currently 580 open referral cases, or about 75 per assistant attorney general. 250 are filed and in active litigation, the remainder are in some stage of negotiations.
The “Lake Initiative” has so far resulted in about 28 referrals to the AG’s office, all of which have been assigned to Don Willow “so we can be consistent in how we’re pursuing these cases.” The initiative started last summer and referrals began arriving in October. Of these cases, 16 have been filed, the remainder are in negotiations. Only six of these cases had potential for pollution of state waters. The majority of the infractions involved facilities maintenance and excessive effluent discharge. Other problems include operating without a valid permit and failure to install equipment.
Many problems boil down to miscommunication with contractors, failure to complete necessary paperwork and overtaxing undersized systems – problems that often can be addressed through greater education and awareness of septic issues.
As the potential for greater enforcement of water quality issues increases, alternatives to litigation may help officials and communities address problems more efficiently. Ideas include issuing tickets for minor violations, posting violations on the Web to increase community awareness and peer pressure, increasing bonding requirements.
“One of the challenges of this lake initiative is calibrating it so there is fairness in prosecution.”
Environmental public health specialist, Benton Co. Health Department
Median income in the county is $25,000…”When you’re asking someone to have an engineer design a system ($1,000-$1,5000 for piece of paper, plus cost of system on top of that) They can’t afford that. You’re asking them to install a system that could be worth more than the house.”
“This is a challenge for us with people buying weekend homes and moving in fulltime.”
There are still a lot of old systems out there that hook into old metal tanks or 55 gallon barrels.
Benton Co. now requires permitting of all systems.
Executive director, Lake of the Ozarks Watershed Alliance
LOWA volunteers enabled DNR to triple the number of sites sampled during the 5-year baseline study.
“This is a unique lake and we feel it will require a unique solution.”
Low-Impact Landscaping, which can help reduce the harmful effects of heavy storm water inflow (which carries soil and other pollutants into the lake), is “one of the ideas that can make a big difference if people buy into it.”
Other design ideas include using rip-rap rocks in place of sea walls, rain gardens, vegetated bioswales, infiltration systems, pervious pavement.
LOWA at times hosts a pump-out program that offers pumping discounts and homeowner education on septic issues. Issues remain with inappropriate dumping from boats and R.V. The U.S. Coast Guard could require the addition of a dye to boat waste tanks.
The Lakes of Missouri Volunteer Program, University of Missouri-Columbia
The Lakes of Missouri Volunteer Program uses volunteer input to account for cost-share requirements of federal 319 grants that fund waster quality testing projects.
Considering time, travel expenses and boat use, volunteers contribute more than $87 per sample pulled in 2010.
Director, Missouri DNR, soil and water conservation program
The program is geared to a more agricultural audience, but has expanded from its focus from soil preservation to include the promotion of more practices tied directly to water quality.
Re-emphasizes that high levels of phosphate (which tends to bind to soil particles) is tied to soil erosion, while elevated levels of nitrogen (a water-soluble element) are tied to runoff issues.
Fisheries management biologist, Missouri Department of Conservation
“Inadequate nutrients can result on low abundance of fish. Nutrients in moderate amounts help to maintain healthy aquatic communities.”
All fish at some point in their lives live off microscopic phytoplankton and zooplankton. The more phosphorous in the lake, the greater phytoplankton supply and the fatter the sport fish become.
“We’re well under this maximum output level.”
Driving up phosphorous levels to the point of maximized fish production results in “pretty green water,” but pushing nutrient levels too low may have deleterious effects, as well.
Efforts to reduce phosphorous in other areas – including Smith Mountain Lake, Va., Beaver Lake, Ar., and Ontario – have resulted in reduced fish populations. Invasive species such as zebra mussels and Asian Carp also feed on phytoplankton, presenting another challenge to the diets of the sport fish.
Stoner advocated a “balanced approach” to achieve aesthetic and recreational goals while at the same time supporting healthy fishing waters.
City engineer, City of Osage Beach
The joint sewer treatment plant, a cooperative effort between Osage Beach and Lake Ozark, has a 3-milllion gallon per day capacity. In July’s peak season, the system received about 2 million gallons per day, leaving about 1 million gallons of expansion room.
Ninety-five percent of the city’s residences and businesses are covered by the $35 million system. About 1,115 grinder pumps – each serving a few houses – feed the sewage to about 57 lift stations that pump the effluent to the treatment facility. Instead of patching the system by adding more individual grinders, “we want to have a managed plan for the future…a shard system that could increase efficiency and reduce cost.”
“This is not a friendly system in terms of the budget for maintenance.”
A single-family house creates an estimated 370 gallons of wastewater per day, about 100 gallons of sewage a day per person.
“We have numerous requests from people outside city limits to expand service.”
Areas currently targeted for expansion include Turkey Bend, with about 1,200 homes and businesses and 1,200 condos with a build-out capacity of 10,000, and a developed areas neat the Lake of the Ozarks State Park.
City Administrator, Warsaw
Inflow and infiltration problems in the city sewer were taxing the city’s wastewater treatment system. The city bought a smoke tests thinking it would find one big problem. Instead they found a bunch of small problems and indications of system failure.
The city received over $4 million in grant and loan money through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to lay new sewer lines.
“We’re already seeing a positive impact and we’re just laying lines.”
Though testing and replacement projects are cost prohibitive, funding to evaluate the present condition of aging systems – maybe through a grant program – can help cities understand the scope of current problems and better plan for the future.
Camden County Commission
“We nee d a little better toolbox, probably with legislation. We can’t go onto a property unless we have a signed complaints (as per SB 446 of 2004). If our people go by and see something that looks like a problem, they should be able to go out and investigate…like probable cause.”
“There is no question that we have some lake front business that certainly take advantage of the system.”
Supervisor of Camden County Wastewater Department
Camden County has issued 4,600 permits or wastewater treatment systems since the county began its permitting program in 1996. Of those, about half are for lakefront properties.
“A lot of neighbors don’t like to report on each other, some love to report on each other…(again underscores need for probable cause).
The county is looking to Stone County as a model for a program to require inspections upon any property transfer. Eblen would like to see the county require inspections as a condition of remodel and rebuilding permits.
Camden County Prosecutor
“There are some problems with state law that restrict what we can do.
“In the criminal statutes, the punishment is an infraction – the fine is $200. If the cost to fix a system is $30,000, people don’t have much of an incentive to fix.”
“I think people ought to be personally responsible for their own effluent they’re creating. I don’t have a problem with making a criminal sanction if punishment is consistent with the risk…also mental state, whether it is negligent, innocent or knowingly.”
“I think…start with a C misdemeanor and go up from there. I don’t think we need felonies unless it’s done knowingly and you’re creating a real health hazard.”
Planning Administrator, Camden County Planning and Zoning
“I can’t claim there’s a lot of sensitivity [among the construction community to the water quality issues associated with soil erosion]. They’ve got a nice big retention pond called the lake…they don’t understand why the soil is of any hazard.”
“Everyone treats DNR standard, even though it’s a min standard, as THE standard. I wish everyone would remember it is a minimum.”
Dr. Randall Miles
Associate professor, Dept. of Soil, Environmental and Atmospheric Science, University of Missouri-Columbia
A central sewer will not solve all the problems.
“I’d contend we could replace all septic system and only fix 25 percent of the problem.”
“Best design + best installation +worst user = failed system”
“Many times when people move to the lake it’s the first time they’ve owned a on-site system.”
Three infrastructure scales need to be employed in a distributed management approach based on density, elevation, soils, current infrastructure or lack of infrastructure and contributing sources: on-site; cluster and centralized.
Two types of assessment – the more comprehensive inspection and the cursory “scratch and sniff” evaluation.
Just because a system’s been evaluated doesn’t mean it’s been updated.
Iowa passed SB261 in 2008, which requires inspection on all ownership transfers. The state has 396 inspectors certified at this point and since July 2009, inspections are up 25 percent.
The National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association will hold its national meeting in STL Oct. 25-28.
Senator Kurt Schaefer
19th Senate District, Vice-Chair of Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection,
Energy and the Environment Committee
“I think water quality issues at Lake of the Ozarks area is a state issue.” The majority of people that contribute, that pay for and ultimately fix the problem, don’t live here permanently.
Without investment in fixing the problem people will see either stagnation or decline in real estate values and decline of enjoyment….
“Over 400 individually permitted sewer entities. Most issues come from onsite sewers failing. I don’t think state laws kept up with tracking what’s going on.
I think it lends itself to getting rid of all onsite sewer systems…There are other models (such as sewer authorities).
“It all boils down to you have to have capitol to put in improvements (difficult on individual level.”
The DNR is doing a good job, but department of health is the risk assessment agency. “I think dept of health has been AWOL in this process.”
“It’s a difficult situation to take the leading state economic driver and raise this issue without and adequate assessment of the risk.”
Lake Ozarks Watershed Alliance; Four County Wastewater Task Force
Engineered system $1,50 just to design, then it cost $15,000-$35,000 to install.
Lake water turns over 3.7 times yr on average; 35% of shoreline is still undeveloped.
The challenge is the future, not today, because the water is good today..
Task force seeks to place all septics into a central treatment system where all across four counties are charged the same. Also wants to provide help for economically challenged individuals..
Mayor Penny Lyons
Osage Beach, Joint Sewer Board
Sewage treatment plant on 45-acre site off Highway 54, near Osage River.
Plant organized in ’84 between the cities—each city pays a percentage. The average annual flow is 560 million gallons. Planned expansion project estimated to cost $21 million , $11,000 per household.
“Our treatment plant is the most valuable resource at the lake.”
“You should be aware that if you’re considering taxing the area, at least in my city, a tax would be a difficult issue to get across.”
“I think the DNR could probably use some help with inspections…because if people don’t inspect, they don’t maintain.”
Engineer, Schultz & Summers Engineering, Inc.
Right now the (Camden) County Commissioners spend an inordinate amount of their time dealing with sewers.