Coalition Report: Where The Rivers Run

By Maisah Khan
Water Policy Director
Coalition for the Environment

One of Missouri’s state slogans is “where the rivers run” for good reason. Our state is home to over 180,000 miles of rivers and streams. The Mighty Mississippi River forms our eastern border while the Missouri River runs through the heart of our state. And, just as these rivers run through, connect, and transect every part of our state, so do they inform all parts of our water program efforts at the Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE).

When it comes to our big rivers, nutrient pollution is a key concern in an agricultural state like Missouri.

We know that excess nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, trigger rapid algal blooms in our waterways. Algal blooms quickly deplete oxygen levels and reduce once thriving aquatic systems to “dead zones.” The Gulf dead zone is a well-known issue, but the effects of nutrient pollution have also created dead zones and fish kills in our Missouri lakes.

The state of Missouri has been working on nutrient criteria for lakes since the mid-2000s. As a result of a lawsuit MCE brought in 2016 against the EPA, Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) finally put forward lake nutrient criteria last year and the EPA approved it in December 2018. While we are still analyzing all of the pieces of the criteria, overall it is a big disappointment. MCE is deeply concerned that Missouri’s lake nutrient standards are unlikely to prevent impairment of lakes and would instead merely register impairment after the fact.

DNR’s rule contains a numeric criterion (or standard) for chlorophyll-a, but the other parameters, such as total nitrogen and total phosphorus, are considered “screening values” only. These “screening values” alone do not trigger a finding of impairment. Instead, when a screening value is exceeded, five more standards are invoked before a finding of impairment can be made. We are concerned that these additional standards range from the redundant to the hard-to-document-and-prove (fish kills, for example).

While we are pushing DNR at a state level to protect more waters, we are also facing an unprecedented roll back of the Clean Water Act (CWA) at the federal level. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a new definition of what it means to be “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) under the CWA. The proposed rule would remove protections for over 600,000 acres of wetlands in Missouri.

Visit www.moenvironment.org to learn how to take action to protect our waters.