KANSAS CITY — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon proposed sweeping changes Tuesday to state water quality laws in an attempt to stem the flow of billions of gallons of sewage into Missouri waterways.
If enacted, the proposed laws would allow the state to designate certain waterways — including the Lake of the Ozarks — as "distressed," and would allow the state to limit the number of permits for wastewater facilities at bodies of water under "serious stress."
Septic tanks, including the 50,000 at the Lake of the Ozarks, would be subject to inspections by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources for the first time.
¡°My proposal represents an important step forward in improving water quality at the Lake of the Ozarks and other waterways because the status quo simply is not good enough,¡± Nixon said in a press release. ¡°It is clear to me that Missouri must have more robust powers for dealing with pollution when we see the signs of contamination.¡±
The proposal would require DNR¡¯s Clean Water Commission to designate a water body as distressed. The commission and DNR then would be required to be much more vigilant in preventing pollution.
Specifically the new laws would allow regulators to:
¡ö Cease issuance of permits in a body of water that has been designated as distressed. Exceptions could be granted under certain conditions.
¡ö Begin inspections of all on-site wastewater treatment facilities such as septic systems and lagoons. Operators of the systems that are in violation could be ordered by DNR to clean up their systems, connect to existing sewer systems and even ¡°cease and desist¡± using the facility.
¡ö Conduct investigations, including water quality monitoring, to determine how to improve water quality of lakes and streams and determine when a water body is no longer distressed.
Nixon¡¯s recommendations come in the wake of the Lake of the Ozarks E. coli scandal in which Missouri Department of Natural Resources officials failed to release a report showing dangerous levels of E. coli for four weeks in late May and June.
The Kansas City Star revealed the cover-up on July 16. In the months that followed, Nixon was dogged by questions of whether he knew DNR was withholding the report and how such a coverup could have happened.
The Senate¡¯s environmental committee ordered an investigation.
Initially, Nixon said he and his staff knew nothing about the report but later the Senate committee released transcripts of interviews with DNR staff that showed at least two of Nixon¡¯s top aides were told about the report almost as soon as DNR officials knew about it. Nixon has continued to deny that he was told about the report.
In September, Nixon said the Lake of the Ozarks needed cleaning up. He ordered inspections of more than 400 wastewater treatment facilities at the lake ¡ª more than a third of the facilities were found to be in violation of state law.
In late September, the public learned of a second cover-up. Nixon announced that he had been told by DNR that beaches at the lake had been closed in June because of high levels of E. coli ¡ª but they never were.
Nixon blasted DNR for not protecting the public. When the dust settled, five top DNR officials were gone and DNR¡¯s Director Mark Templeton was suspended for two weeks.