The attempt by State Rep. Rocky Miller to change the way E. coli is measured at Missouri’s state park beaches, and how state park beaches are closed, has taken an interesting path this legislative session.
As of Wednesday, several days after the legislative session ended, Miller was still unsure of the fate of his bill. With Memorial Day weekend fast approaching, and with recent rains, there is concern the DNR will be forced to close the lake’s public beaches if E. coli tests are unfavorable.
The original bill ― House Bill 51 ― was well received early in the session. Rep. Diane Franklin was co-sponsor of the bill, which eventually became part of HB 881 and in the Senate.
The E. coli/beach closure language then became part of HB 650, a Department of Natural Resources bill loaded with language unfavorable to Gov. Jay Nixon. He spread the word he planned to veto the DNR bill.
“We scrambled to find a vehicle for the language and did a Herculean task to attach it to HB 28,” Miller explained. “We got it through the Senate and to the House and voted its approval with 15 minutes left in the session last Friday.”
The governor has indicated he will sign the bill, and has 15 days to do so as part of an emergency clause. It’s possible the bill will not be signed before Memorial Day weekend.
Section 640.080 would set a standard that measures E. coli using the Environmental Protection Agency's Method 1603 method that measures culturable E. coli, with the geometric mean (GM) of weekly sampling of 190 colony-forming units per 100 milliliters would be used.
If beaches exceed the GM standard, the DNR would post the beach with signs that state, "Swimming is Not Recommended." That differs from current language which requires “closed” signs, and even allows beaches to be cordoned off with yellow and black police tape.
The department reserves the right to close a beach in the event of a documented health risk including things such as wastewater by-pass, extremely high sampling values, spills of hazardous chemicals, or localized outbreaks of an infectious disease.
Missouri has the strictest standards for E.coli levels of any state in the nation, and even exceeds the levels the EPA considers safe for public use.