Missouri has until March 1, 2006 to submit a proposal that outlines which streams can’t be made safe for swimming, according to a settlement reached between the EPA and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. The Clean Water Act of 1972 states that ALL waters should be safe for swimming, or there needs to be an explanation of why the water can’t be safe for swimming. Missouri was to have provided the exemptions to the EPA by 1983. To be safe for swimming, a water body must have bacteria limits on effluent entering that water body. As I understand it, saying “there is too much pollution from the sewage treatment plant upstream” is not reason enough to exempt water bodies from being classified as “swimmable”.
The settlement, reached on December 17, 2004, states that Missouri will have submitted a plan for dealing with the exemptions to the “fishable/swimmable” mandate by March 1 of 2006 or the EPA will step in and issue its own plan. The EPA’s plan would probably have more restrictions on effluent than any plan worked out by the DNR and Missouri stakeholders. This should provide some incentive for polluters to work out a deal with the state in a hurry.
One of the stakeholder groups involved in the development of a proposal is the sewer districts. To date, many of these districts haven’t been required to disinfect their effluent to remove pathogenic bacteria. According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the Urban Areas Coalition (a group of Missouri members of the “Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies”) felt that a 2000 DNR regulatory impact report was not acceptable.
The problem the sewerage folks have is with the cost. It will be expensive to install equipment and buy supplies to disinfect the water dumped into Missouri’s streams. These costs will certainly be passed on to the taxpayer or consumer. Environmentalists might have problems with the methods used to disinfect the wastewater. Chlorine has long been the disinfectant of choice for sewage outflow. Just as chlorine deters the growth of aquatic life in swimming pools, it will also have negative effects on the aquatic life of receiving streams. Additionally, some byproducts of chlorine disinfection are carcinogenic.
Whatever happens, Missouri must deal with the problem or face the Feds. Ultimately, it probably means cleaner streams and lakes - at great expense. But we’ve been living on borrowed time since 1983, so I suppose it’s time to pay the piper.