Congressional delegation takes stand against EPA lake water recommendation

Joyce Miller
Lake of the Ozarks.

Missouri’s Republican Congressional delegation has stepped forward, asking the Environmental Protection Agency to rethink their recommendation to add Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Lake to the state’s list of impaired waterways. 

The move comes as the comment period for stakeholders to voice their opinions to the EPA comes to an end. Luektemeyer’s letter estimates the economic fallout could cost as much as $1.7 billion in local revenue. 

 Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer (MO-03) led a letter signed by the delegation to the EPA urging the agency to reconsider its decision to list over forty bodies of water as “impaired,” including Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Reservoir.

 “Unfortunately, the EPA used old and unverified data and failed to work with Missouri officials prior to making this decision, and we are working with them to get this corrected. Not only was this listing misinformed, but it could potentially cost our communities $1.7 billion in local revenue at a time when our economy is still recovering and small businesses are working to get back on their feet,” Luetkemeyer said. “The EPA must evaluate the updated data and work with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and local leaders to get a more accurate assessment of the situation.”

The letter to the EPA cites several factors, including the use of outdated data,  and insufficient fish kill numbers that were not substantiated by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources or Conservation Department. 

Luektemeyer said the assessment of Lake of the Ozarks is complex and needs additional review. 

EPA’s recommendation has drawn criticism from many in the lake area who feel the federal agency overstepped their authority and needs to take another look at the data.The deadline to comment was extended from Feb. 5 to March 22 after EPA’s recommendation drew the attention of lake area officials and other stakeholders.

EPA’s recommendation stems from their analysis of data they say indicates the levels of chlorophyll-a in Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Lake exceed Missouri’s nutrient criteria that could impact the health and diversity of aquatic life. In November of 2020, the EPA partially approved, partially disapproved Missouri’s 2020 303(d) list of impaired waters. 

DNR is required to submit the list every two years under the Clean Water Act. The list includes waterways in the state that exceed certain criteria, including elevated levels of several types of nutrients.The nutrient that caught the attention of the EPA is chlorophyll-a.  Elevated levels of the nutrient can cause algae blooms that, in some situations, can be a hazard to fish. Although DNR did not classify either Lake of the Ozarks or Truman Lake as impaired, EPA added the two bodies of water, along with 38 others in the state to their list of recommendations. EPA disapproved the portion of the list that did not include the 40 additional lakes as impaired against the state’s chlorophyll-a numeric nutrient criteria. In other words, according to EPA, Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Lake have elevated levels of chlorophyll-a that qualify the bodies of water to be listed as impaired. 

“We request the EPA categorize Lake of the Ozarks as 3B to allow the Department to analyze new information that would facilitate additional refinement of the LMD and determine the appropriate water-quality endpoint for the lake or portions of the lake,” Luektemeyer said.  Additionally, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources is currently reevaluating the assignment of the Lake of the Ozarks to the Ozark Highlands Ecoregion and conducting additional analysis regarding the nutrient loading in that water body. “ 

Richard Voss , who works with DNR’s water protection program in the monitoring and assessment unit said that as part of its decision process, which includes seeking public comment, EPA has the authority to add waters to state 303(d) lists that the agency believes to be impaired. EPA is now requesting public comment on the addition of 40 lakes to Missouri’s 303(d) List it believes to be impaired for nutrients.

According to Voss, EPA added these waters to the list because chlorophyll-a (algae) concentrations and lake responses to nutrient enrichment exceed Missouri’s numeric nutrient criteria. Lake of the Ozarks and Harry S. Truman Reservoir are two of the 40 Missouri lakes EPA identified as meeting the aquatic life-protection criteria for nutrient impairment. DNR did not identify Truman or Lake of the Ozarks as impaired based on their analysis of the data. 

According to the data used by EPA, what that means is the presence of excessive chlorophyll-a in these waters may impact the health and diversity of their aquatic life.There have been no large fish kills reported at Lake of the Ozarks. A few small isolated incidents have been reported. 

Former state representative Rocky Miller said he believes it comes down to an issue of location. There is a group working on that with plans to submit their recommendations to DNR and the EPA that could lead to the recommendation being retracted.

Miller said DNR put Truman and Lake of the Ozarks in the Ozarks ecoregion zone, which has a much lower threshold for chlorophyll a.  Both Truman and the Lake’s watersheds are in the Plains zone and therefore any testing done should reflect that zone's limits. 

The chlorophyll numbers for Lake of the Ozarks are not a human health hazard, they are the reason the lake is a great sport fish fishery , he said.  A fish kill in the upper reaches of the Lake is not wanted, but usually associated with droughts and low oxygen and therefore is not man made, but an act of nature, he said.  

“Lake of the Ozarks is one of the most tested waterways in the State and is and always has been safe for full body contact and recreation.”