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The Planet
Victory: Water Sentinels Score Big in Missouri

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By Tom Valtin

Thanks largely to the work of the Missouri Water Sentinels, more than 1,000 additional miles of rivers and streams and tens of thousands of acres of lakes in the Show Me State are now targeted for cleanup. The Sierra Club's Water Sentinels program trains volunteers to monitor the health of local waterways and advocate for their cleanup.

In May, the EPA substantially expanded the list of Missouri waterbodies to be cleaned up under Clean Water Act provisions. The Missouri Clean Water Commission had compiled the list in 2002, but clean-water activists described it as tainted and incomplete. "It appears the EPA has based its findings and recommendations on science, rather than the Clean Water Commission's politics," says Ken Midkiff, a Missourian who serves as national director of the Sierra Club's Clean Water Campaign. The Clean Water Act requires states to list all waterbodies within their boundaries that fail to meet federal water-quality standards. The so-called 303(d) list is to be compiled every two years, and is subject to EPA review and approval. States must then develop a plan to reduce pollution in these waterbodies.

"The state of Missouri failed to compile a complete and accurate list in 1998," explains Midkiff, "which led to a suit brought by the Sierra Club and the American Canoe Association. Our claim was that the state had done a piss-poor job of identifying impaired waterbodies." A settlement agreement with the EPA added a large number of streams to the list, mandated additional monitoring on 26 waterbodies, required the increased utilization of volunteer-collected data and initiated sweeping reform of the state's inadequate water-quality protection standards. "It is our opinion that the state and EPA wouldn't be doing diddly without the possibility of 'contempt of court' hanging over their heads," says Midkiff.

"I really feel that without the lawsuit the EPA would have tried to blow us off no matter what we had in data," adds Missouri Water Sentinel Organizer Angel Kruzen. The Missouri Clean Water Commission's 2002 list targeted 174 waterbodies around the state for cleanup. But this omitted 46 polluted streams that the Sierra Club alleged had been illegally delisted. "Certain members of the Clean Water Commission buckled under to complaints from the Missouri Farm Bureau and industrial groups and politicians under their sway, and removed documentable impaired streams, rivers, and lakes from the cleanup list," Midkiff charges. Clean-water activists like Kruzen set about making their case with citizen-collected data. Now, after having reviewed new data compiled largely by volunteer water monitors, the EPA has mandated the cleanup of an additional 63 lakes, rivers, and stream segments.

"This is a huge victory for the entire nationwide volunteer water-monitoring movement," says national Water Sentinels director Scott Dye, also a Missourian. "The EPA utilized quality-assured, scientifically sound volunteer data in making its impairment determinations. It's a testament to the power of a fully matured volunteer monitoring program. "Six of the seven urban streams in Kansas City and St. Louis that the Ozark Chapter had targeted for inclusion are now on the 303(d) list," he elaborates, crediting Kruzen for spearheading the effort. "And many additional streams will now be listed due to other volunteers' comments, including the entire reaches of both the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers within the state's borders for PCBs, chlordane, or mercury."

The EPA found that the Missouri Clean Water Commission had delisted 46 waterbodies "without good cause," and placed them back on the 303(d) list. The EPA also rejected the state's replacement of "sediment impairments" on 34 streams with "habitat loss." This was key because "habitat loss" isn't a pollutant, and thus wouldn't have been subject to Clean Water Act restrictions-even though habitat loss is the result of sedimentation. In addition, the agency expanded the list of pollutants to be cleaned up in 32 listed waterbodies, from insecticides in the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers to low water-oxygen levels, fecal contamination, and high mercury levels in other rivers and lakes.

"The EPA recognized that water quality standards were not being met in the state's cities and in areas impacted by corporate agribusiness," says Midkiff. "The Sierra Club's goal is to get these waterbodies cleaned up, not to pretend that no problem exists."


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