Mo. Gov. Nixon to seek stronger water quality laws

Sunday, December 27, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gov. Jay Nixon plans to seek stronger water quality laws during the 2010 legislative session after his administration was criticized this year for its handling of test results showing high levels of E. coli in the Lake of the Ozarks.

Nixon said his legislative proposals will focus on waterways considered to be endangered because of their water quality. He wants state officials to be able to more quickly limit the effluent flowing into threatened watersheds and to require a higher standard for permits.

"If waters were declared dangerous or challenged or threatened, there would be a limitation on folks being able to build old-school type of sewage treatment," Nixon said. They "instead would have to either tie into a sewage system or treat in a much more significant way what they released off their land."

The governor said he plans to roll out more details about his water quality proposals in coming weeks.

Nixon's emphasis on water quality comes after his Department of Natural Resources failed for about a month to inform the public that test results taken in late May showed high levels of E. coli bacteria in the Lake of the Ozarks. Interviews conducted as part of a Senate committee investigation later revealed that some members of Nixon's office knew of the poor water test results, despite previous assertions to the contrary.

Nixon in September ordered a widespread water quality sampling at the popular tourist lake in central Missouri as well as the inspection of about 400 nearby facilities with wastewater permits.

Later that month, he suspended DNR director Mark Templeton while stating that he had recently learned the department had failed to close public beaches at the lake earlier in the year despite tests showing high bacteria levels. Nixon acknowledged "abysmal failures" in Missouri's water quality program.

In October, Nixon reinstated Templeton but fired another longtime aide who had delayed the release of the E. coli test results while serving as deputy director of the Department of Natural Resources.

Also in October, Nixon said an internal review found 10 cases over the past three years -- half of which occurred in 2009 -- in which public beaches at state parks were not closed despite high E. coli levels. In 14 other cases since 2005, the department apparently kept secret the fact that high fecal coliform bacteria levels existed in the Lake of the Ozarks, Nixon said.

The governor acknowledged in a recent interview that the controversy about the Lake of the Ozarks had generated a lot of "energy."

"We want to channel that energy into cleaning up the water," he said.

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