The Missouri Department of Natural Resources plans to start meeting with interested citizens and stakeholders from the Niangua Watershed area within the next couple of months as a new state program is phased in.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources plans to start meeting with interested citizens and stakeholders from the Niangua Watershed area within the next couple of months as a new state program is phased in.

Perhaps just as importantly, "Our Missouri Waters" signifies the beginning of a new approach by DNR in how it handles water quality and quantity issues, according to Program Director Jennifer Hoggatt. While watershed work is not new for DNR, using watershed land areas as its organizational framework is — or will be, if or when the full extent of the program is implemented.

The goal is provide "clean and abundant water for generations to come," said Hoggatt.

The state will focus on HUC (Hydrologic Unit Code)-8 level watersheds as a manageable scale to begin working within.

A watershed is simply an area of land where all of the water drains to the same place. There are different levels of watersheds from large basins consisting of medium size rivers draining into one big river to a small creek that is one of many streams feeding a medium-sized river.

The HUC-8 level was chosen in Missouri as there are 66 of this level within the state compared to close to 2,000 at the next smaller level, according to Hoggatt.

Watershed Work

With the Niangua Watershed being added to Our Missouri Waters this year, Hoggatt addressed area citizens Monday evening at a Lake of the Ozarks Watershed Alliance meeting about the initiative that she is heading up for DNR.

The Niangua Watershed joins the program after a pilot phase — which included the Lower Grand, Spring and Big River watersheds — was completed last year. The first phase now includes the pilot watersheds, the Niangua, Sac and Upper Mississippi-Cape Girardeau watersheds as well as watersheds within the Meramec Basin, the Salt Basin and the Missouri River corridor.

All 66 watersheds that cover Missouri will be phased in over the next few years. The watersheds within each phase will then be reviewed in five-year rotations.

The goal within each HUC-8 level watershed is to partner with local citizens to lead a discussion about water quality and supply. Working at the local level of the HUC-8 area, local citizens will help define issues that need to be addressed as well as solutions. DNR will mainly kick-start the discussion with information and support local concerns and initiatives related to the dynamics of the watershed with technical and financial resources as is feasible.

Hoggatt anticipated this work to begin in the Niangua Watershed this fall. This area is not just the Niangua Arm of the Lake of the Ozarks but also to the Niangua River, the Little Niangua River and their tributaries, extending down into part of Webster County as well as in Dallas and Camden counties.

The Niangua River — outside the Arm of the Lake of the Ozarks — landed on the Environmental Protection Agency's list of impaired waters in 2012 for bacteria along with its tributary Dousinbury Creek. The Little Niangua River was on the 2010 and 2012 impaired lists for dissolved oxygen from organic enrichment.

The EPA list of impaired waters has not yet been released for 2014.

In addition to its history of water quality issues, the Niangua Watershed was selected for the new state program this year to coordinated the phasing-in of closely connected watersheds. The program will typically start in HUC-8 level watersheds that are headwaters and then move down the line.

The Bigger Picture

The watershed-based approach is an attempt to make greater gains in water quality issues through local knowledge and by providing greater connectivity within DNR, between DNR and local issues and between watershed groups.

As DNR goes through the process, Hoggatt said they will be studying local programs so it can help pass along ideas and programs that are working for other watershed groups.

DNR would also like to eventually synchronize its permitting system within each watershed so that it can more easily make changes or implement new practices and then study the impact of those programs.

According to Hoggatt, DNR is working on better linking its internal departments for a more comprehensive outlook at water quality and supply issues and solutions — being informed by the local watershed management plans. The watershed plans could identify where and what the issues are and DNR could then possibly use the plan as a factor in grant and loan decision-making.

In addition to the environment, the new watershed-based approach is also looking to take into consideration other dynamics, such as demographics, recognizing that other local issues can impact watersheds indirectly.

In the pilot phase, for example, DNR learned about the everyday challenges facing citizens in the Lower Grand Watershed, said Hoggatt. In the north-central Missouri region, they are facing a declining and aging population and are struggling with that demographic shift and its impact on existing water and sewer systems.