After more than six months of political maneuvering and waiting, a bill that will change the way E. coli bacteria is measured at the state’s public beaches was signed by Gov. Jay Nixon Friday.

House Bill 28 includes an emergency clause that allows the new law to become effective immediately.

The omnibus bill changes laws regarding the Department of Natural Resources, and includes language that impacts Grand Glaize Beach and PB 1 (along with all state park beaches), both of which have been closed numerous times in recent years based on strict E. coli measuring guidelines established by the DNR.

In addition, the bill changes the way the public is notified of potential health hazards.

The bill

The DNR now will use a standard that measures E. coli using the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Method 1603, which is less stringent than DNR standards.

If beaches exceed the geometric mean of 190 colony of E. coli per 100 milliliters of water the DNR must post signs that say “Swimming Is Not Recommended.” That is a significant change from yellow and black police tape that has been used previously to cordon off the beaches at the lakes’ two state parks, and signs that say “Beach Closed…”

The bill also authorizes the DNR to close a beach at any state park in the event of a documented health risk including a wastewater bypass, extremely high E. coli samples, hazardous chemical spills or localized outbreaks of an infectious disease.

The bill was originally introduced into the House last January by District 124 Rocky Miller. After a long battle to keep the legislation alive, Miller, State Rep. Diane Franklin (District 123) and Rep. David Wood (District 58) managed to attach the language to HB 28.

“I am glad the ridiculous method that the State Parks Department uses to test and close beaches will be changed,” Miller said of Nixon’s signing. “I am saddened that it took the governor so long to sign the bill. The lake area has suffered unknown but substantial loss due to his delay in signing this legislation. I will continue to attempt to protect the lake area from the uncaring actions of state government run by Governor Nixon.”

Also supportive of Representative Miller’s bill has been the Tri-County Lodging Association.

“The TCLA Board of Directors is very appreciate of State Representatives Rocky Miller, Diane Franklin and David Wood for their legislative efforts and commitment to improve the water quality testing protocol for all State Park Beaches in Missouri through the passage of House Bill 28,” TCLA Director Jim Divincen said.  “We would also like to thank Governor Nixon for realizing the importance of this legislation and signing House Bill 28.”

According to Representative Miller, prior to this legislation, Missouri had the strictest beach testing procedures in the entire country, Divincen said. 

“This is endorsed by the fact that DNR water testing results for both June 24 and July this year were substantially below EPA’s acceptable single sample threshold, yet the Grand Glaize Beach remained closed for both of those weeks due to the geometric mean calculations,” Divincen noted.  “The new advisory system more accurately communicates the condition of the water quality for all state park beaches while ensuring that public safety is protected.  We would also like to applaud the Director of Parks Bill Bryan for his continued efforts to work closely with the Citizens for the Preservation of the Lake of the Ozarks Committee, as well as initiating ongoing plans to provide a safe and enjoyable swimming experience for our visitors and guests.”

Other provisions

The omnibus bill contained many provisions related to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

Among its provisions, the bill simplifies the environmental permitting process, a proposal put forward by the Governor in his State of the State address in January. It also extends the sunset on fees that fund hazardous waste management, and allows county commissions to implement burn bans – an authority that county commissions did not have during the drought of 2012.