by Kathleen Logan Smith

Executive Director; Missouri Coalition For The Environment


Finding No Joy In Being Right


This spring if you are lucky enough to live near a healthy, natural stream, hear the serenade of the spring peepers, watch fish dart in the waters, see turtles sunning themselves, and experience that delight of a child discovering minnows and crawdads- if you are that lucky, savor the moment.

More than 80% of Missouri’s waters are not receiving legal protections they should have and chances are, if you are enjoying a healthy small stream in Missouri it’s only luck fending off a discharge pipe spewing some liquid that would kill the life in the stream and leave it, like so many others: mostly dead, slimy, and fetid.

A federal district court has ruled that Missouri’s water quality standards are “in clear violation” of the Clean Water Act. We knew that which is why we brought the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri in August 2010. The lawsuit charges that the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) failed the citizens of Missouri because the vast majority of waters in the state have been illegally exempted from clean water laws that aim to keep water safe and healthy for people, fish, and livestock.

The (EPA) instructed the State to correct this gross oversight in 2000. And yet, 12 years later, more than 150,000 miles of streams remain unprotected by the standards and laws that would keep our waters healthy.

It makes no sense to exempt 80% of Missouri waters from standards that make water safe for fish and people. Nor does it make sense that the majority of the discharge pipes dumping pollutants into our waters are into these unprotected streams that are feeding downstream rivers and lakes.

Missouri’s exempted streams, deemed “unclassified” by an artifact of legal-ese, feed rivers and lakes where people float, fish, and swim. Because of the failure to apply standards, these “unclassified” waters are delivering an ever-increasing supply of pollution to recreational rivers, lakes and drinking water supplies. Full pollution limits are not applied to discharges into these waters.  Waters that are polluted can have more algae and fewer fish and can contain parasites, viruses, and bacteria that make people, pets, and livestock sick. The great majority of wastewater discharges in Missouri are into these “unclassified” waters.

The goal of the Clean Water Act is to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” Applying the standards is a necessary and critical step to getting cleaner, safer waters and reclaiming our water-rich heritage. Without real and effective steps forward in our water policy, we can expect an ever-increasing limitation on our ability to enjoy and benefit from the state’s waters.

You can help us achieve our clean water goals by joining the Missouri Coalition for the Environment (stop by and see us at the Earth Day Festival in Forest Park) and by letting Missouri’s elected officials and Clean Water Commissioners know where you stand.

The courts are telling the people to keep waiting for clean water, even though we are right that Missouri’s water quality standards are “in clear violation.”