Lake of the Ozarks shows all the signs of a healthy environment, says fisheries biologist


Take an hour or so to cast a fishing line into the water or spend a sunrise watching waterfowl feed along the shoreline.
Those are signs of a healthy environment on land and in the water.
If the lake were filled with pollutants and contaminants, fishing would not be a multi-million dollar industry here with hundreds of tournaments drawing thousands of anglers season after season.
There would be no egrets, eagles, herons, kingfishers or osprey who depend on the fisheries for their food source.
“If you don’t have a healthy environment, you are not going to have a healthy fish population,” according to Greg Stoner, fisheries biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation. “The green color of the water is healthy – it’s the aquatic plant, plankton, that’s basic to the food chain. It supports the shad. The shad support the other fish.”
In turn, Stoner said, the fish populations are what supports the waterfowl.
MDC stocks very few species of fish in the lake. With the exception of paddlefish, walleye and a couple of other species that are not native to the lake, the fish population supports itself, he said.
While the water quality at the lake continues to draw attention, some of it negative, Stoner said, with the exception of a few isolated problems, the overall quality of the water and environmental health of Lake of the Ozarks is in good shape.
While there is always room for improvement, considering the growth and development that has gone on for years with few safeguards in place, the lake has weathered the changes fairly well.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources agrees. The E. coli testing program that is in its second year has proven that the lake is not suffering from any large scale contamination.
In fact, with the exception of some isolated samples, the findings from recent water tests are about what water quality specialists expected. There is nothing in the most recent water samples to indicate persistent or reoccurring problem, said Kevin Hess of DNR, an environmental manager from DNR’s regional office in Springfield.
Staff from the regional office have been following the water testing results and conducting the on-site visits to areas where elevated samples are collected.
It’s typical, he said, to see samples go up and down, change hour to hour and even when taken side-by-side at the same time have different results.
All fresh water streams, lakes and rivers, including Lake of the Ozarks, have E. coli, “but it is by no means a contaminated body of water,” Hess said.
One of the issues on Lake of the Ozarks that is different from other waterways is the shoreline development. That means more potential sources for problems, he said.
When the public hears about elevated levels of E. coli, many may assume it has something to do with wastewater seeping into the lake. While that can be a cause, it is not the only possibility.
Elevated levels can be caused by a number of sources. That is especially true after periods of heavy rainfall, he said. 
Runoff from pastures in the upper watershed, wildlife, waterfowl, even family pets in the backyard can create waste that when it washes into a body of water will show elevated levels of E. coli, Hess said.
As would be true with any lake or river, swimmers should avoid drinking the water and take other normal precautions such as washing their hands before handling food,  but it is safe to come and swim, ski and enjoy the water, he said.
With the awareness the testing has raised, what needs to happen now, Hess said, is for everyone to take more responsibility for the water quality to ensure that Lake of the Ozarks does not see a degradation of the water quality.
“We need to continue to monitor the water quality and collect the samples to establish a baseline, and everyone needs to take responsibility to protect it,” Hess said. “Land disturbance, failing septic systems, wastewater treatment plants all pose a possible threat. Lake of the Ozarks is unusual in that it doesn’t have the buffer zone that U. S. Army Corps of Engineer lakes have between development and the shoreline because it is not restricted.”
Contact this reporter at joycem@lakesunleader.com