The mission of the standards is to maintain healthy drinking water as well as ecosystems of waterways and aquatic life. The immediate impetus, however, is to implement state criteria before falling under more broad national standards from the EPA that could cost wastewater system operators in equipment upgrades to further reduce nutrients being released from their systems. The standards would reduce phosphorous and nitrogen, which in too great of amounts can harm water quality through algal blooms. Some amount of nutrients is needed though to sustain aquatic life.

After missing a court-mandated deadline to submit its own plan for water quality standards to the Environmental Protection Agency, the state of Missouri is continuing the lengthy process of getting its proposed rule through the state certification process before turning it over to the EPA. In the meantime, Gov. Eric Greitens appears to be trying to stave off federal regulations that could be implemented in the stead of a plan from the state.
The mission of the standards is to maintain healthy drinking water as well as ecosystems of waterways and aquatic life. The immediate impetus, however, is to implement state criteria before falling under more broad national standards from the EPA that could cost wastewater system operators in equipment upgrades to further reduce nutrients being released from their systems. The standards would reduce phosphorous and nitrogen, which in too great of amounts can harm water quality through algal blooms. Some amount of nutrients is needed though to sustain aquatic life.
According to the EPA, nutrient pollution is one of the nation’s most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems. Storm water runoff is one of the main ways excessive amounts of nutrients contaminate waterways, with rain washing manure and fertilizer into bodies of water.
Nutrients can also come from wastewater system effluent discharged into waterways.
One of the most significant components of the proposed water quality rules in Missouri is the revision of lake nutrient criteria, according to officials with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
Locally, these regulations have the potential to impact Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Lake.
MDNR has developed cost opinions of the impacts to public and private permittees both from its proposed nutrient criteria and from criteria that EPA would likely promulgate using federal ecoregional criteria for lakes. MDNR’s criteria is based on specific Missouri data.
MDNR Water Quality Standards Coordinator John Hoke commented in August, “It is important to have the right balance of nitrogen, phosphorus and chlorophyll, and that balance is different for lakes in different parts of the state. The federal approach does not recognize those unique differences, which is why this rulemaking is important.”
Chlorophyll a is the main indicator test in Missouri’s proposed standards. If levels are below the maximum range set for that eco-region, nothing further is needed. An inconclusive finding due to levels within a higher range would require a closer look with more data being gathered to consider additional factors to the individual lake’s overall health, such as total phosphorous and total nitrogen levels.
This process would take a couple of years to complete, but waterways identified as impaired would face reductions in total discharges, or Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), allowed. A TMDL is the pollutant budget for a watershed - how much can be discharged into the watershed through permitted sources. Stormwater runoff and non-point source pollution are taken into account in the TMDL.
According to MDNR officials, a TMDL can take five to 10 years to write. So it could be potentially more than a decade before permittees around an impaired lake would have to undergo upgrades to reduce nutrient output. Permittees would potentially have another five years on top of that to become compliant with the new limitations.
Either set of rules, state or federal, would require upgrades for wastewater system discharging into lakes to remove more nutrients - it is just a matter of extent. According to AP reporting, the current Missouri plan would have an overall cost of $83.1 million, compared to $1.7 billion under the EPA rule. The estimated cost of both plans has been reduced significantly from estimates released in August 2017.
Under the federal plan, Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Lake could potentially see upgrades required of wastewater permittees.
Based on historic water testing, Lake of the Ozarks would fall below the proposed maximum for chlorophyll a, and so would see no upgrade requirements for wastewater systems, according to MDNR. In August, MDNR officials said Truman Lake may not meet the standards though and could see cost impacts from the state plan as wastewater systems would be required over time to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous in discharge.
It should be noted that Lake of the Ozarks would be in the Ozark Highlands region while Truman would be in the Plains region, thus they would have different standards.
With more agricultural runoff, northern Missouri lakes would likely see more issues the Ozark Border and Highlands regions.
A statement issued by Gov. Greitens on his Facebook page earlier this week estimated the EPA plan would impact some 500,000 Missouri families through sewer bills, costing each nearly $3,500.
The issue over a plan for water quality in Missouri has been ongoing since 2009/10 when the state first passed standards. This set of proposed regulations were disapproved by the EPA in 2011.
Since then the state and stakeholders have been working to develop nutrient standards for each eco-region of the state based on the geography and human uses of the watershed, however MDNR officials have said the effort really began in earnest only in 2015.
As MDNR has worked towards its goal of developing its own nutrient standards, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment filed a lawsuit against the EPA in 2016 seeking a ruling to get standards implemented. Without standards from the state after the disapproval from EPA, the lawsuit pushed for implementation of EPA standards for Missouri lakes.
A consent judgement or settlement was reached, requiring the EPA to propose rules by Dec. 15, 2017 if Missouri does not submit its own proposed rule before that date.
MDNR opened a public comment period on its plan last summer. According to Chris Weaver, MDNR director of staff for the Water Protection Program and director of staff for the Clean Water Commission, there were no significant changes to proposed nutrient levels from the commenting process.
The most major change to the overall rules related to a human health protection criterium on fish consumption. The plan had used national consumption levels rather than studying the amount of fish consumed by the average Missourian, which a commenter pointed out could be less than the national average. MDNR chose to omit those values keep current standards, then move forward later and study the issue in more depth.
The main focus has been on the nutrient levels, and MDNR is focused on getting the more localized standards through the state’s certification process for rule-making.
According to Weaver, MDNR approved the rule internally January 4 and filed it with the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules on January 8. The rule was also filed with the Small Business Fairness Board, as required by state law.
These entities have 30 days to review the proposed set of regulations. Once that timeframe elapses in early February, MDNR will submit the proposal to the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office for certification that the rule-making process was followed and publication in the next state register.
Following certification, which would likely be around mid-March, MDNR can submit the proposal to the EPA for review. The EPA would have 90 days to review and approve or deny the state rule, which would be around the end of June.
However, with the court-mandated deadline, the Associated Press is reporting that the EPA has now proposed its own rule for Missouri.
Greitens submitted comment to the EPA on January 8.
In his statement on Facebook, Greitens included his comments to EPA, saying in part “Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources gathered 20 years of Missouri-specific lake data and worked with farmers, cities, university scientists, and others to design a rule that ensures clean water and protects the environment—without costing Missouri families hundreds of dollars. Our rule would cost 95% less than the EPA’s rule, and allow the state of Missouri to watch over our lakes—not the federal government. It is my understanding that the EPA is considering and taking comments on Missouri’s proposed rule. I urge the EPA to approve Missouri’s rule.”
According to the Associated Press, an EPA spokesman said Tuesday that once Missouri formally submits its plan, the agency "will be in a better position to evaluate whether it meets the requirements of the Clean Water Act."
At a November 21, 2017 public hearing held by MDNR, several members of an interdisciplinary environmental clinic from Washington University spoke on behalf of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, mainly expressing concerns about the lack of drinking water standards.
MDNR explained that it had removed the drinking water supply criteria as the aquatic life protection criteria in lakes located within the Ozark Highlands and Ozark Border ecoregions were more protective than the proposed drinking water criteria.  For lakes in the Plains ecoregion the difference in criteria was very small, and since the criteria was for raw water prior to treatment at a public water treatment facility, the difference was believed to be negligible.
In a written comment from the days after the hearing, citizen Jeannie Robbins questioned the criteria for Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Lake, asking how the Lake could have less stringent criteria than Truman.
MDNR responded, in part, “Because of the impoundment of Truman Lake, the dominant watershed contributions to Lake of the Ozarks would result from within the Ozark Highlands making that ecoregion’s values the applicable nutrient criteria for Lake of the Ozarks. Although water from Truman Lake does eventually discharge into Lake of the Ozarks, some settling and nutrient attenuation is expected.”
They added that Lake of the Ozarks will also be further protected by added general criteria in the rule which requires that waters “maintain a level of water quality at their confluences to downstream waters that provides for attainment and maintenance of the water quality standards of those downstream waters.”